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Hi-tech eyes in tunnels

(The following article by Pete Donohue was posted on the New York Daily News website on July 18.)

NEW YORK -- The MTA's first wave of major anti-terrorism projects will include installing high-tech surveillance systems to protect its underwater tunnels, the Daily News has learned.

The systems will be able to detect intruders entering the 14 subway and commuter rail tunnels leading into Manhattan - sending alarms and images to Metropolitan Transportation Authority police and anti-terror staff in command centers, sources said.

Cops would be dispatched immediately to thwart any possible attack.

The "intelligent CCTV [closed circuit television]" systems will be among the contracts totaling up to $400 million worth of anti-terror projects the MTA plans to award by the end of the year, the sources said.

"We're looking to protect our critical infrastructure," one source said.

A blast that breaches an underwater tunnel in the subways could lead to massive flooding - potentially causing a terrible death toll and crippling the interconnected tunnel network.

Officials would not disclose when construction was expected to begin or end.

The MTA has been under fire for only spending a fraction of the $591 million in state and federal capital funds earmarked to protect the mass transit system.

About $40 million has been spent designing projects that are going out for bid soon.

"The lion's share of the money is going to go out the door, out to work, into projects," MTA spokesman Brian Dolan said of the $591 million.

Critics, including City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), have blasted the MTA for moving too slowly. Miller, who is running for mayor, called last week for giving control of mass transit security to the NYPD, which is in charge of patrolling the subways and buses.

But MTA officials counter that the agency has spent more than $200 million of its own operating funds since the 9/11 attacks on security measures.

Among the things the money has been spent on:

-- Hiring 202 additional MTA cops and 260 bridge and tunnel cops, and for overtime related to heightened security.

-- Equipping all subway train crews, token booth clerks, commuter railroad engineers and conductors with protective hoods and masks to guard against a gas or chemical attack.

-- Creating two Emergency Service Unit teams with assault rifles, radiation and chemical detectors, hazardous material suits, and air-bag and hydraulic systems capable of lifting a truck - or train car - in minutes. Officials are testing a portable lab - the size of a large toolbox - that can identify thousands of substances in seconds.

-- Fencing, bollards, surveillance cameras, tunnel lighting and alarms.

-- A K-9 unit with 25 bomb-sniffing dogs. Officials plan on expanding the unit with 10 more dogs and handlers.

-- Creating the MTA Interagency Counter Terrorism Task Force with detectives assigned to work on counterterrorism teams - including those involving the FBI and NYPD.

MTA security director William Morange said one of the agency's most important security tasks is keeping riders and employees vigilant. "We're safer today because of the awareness that we have brought about," he said.

Monday, July 18, 2005

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