While the United States continues to target Taliban positions in Afghanistan, most city and state emergency management officials are confident an array of new security measures will protect citizens and infrastructure close to home.
But despite these officials’ assurances, others said yesterday the state was caught unprepared in the wake of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center tragedy and still lacks the means to deal with a large-scale bombing or chemical weapons attack.
“All the police deputies are well trained,” said Marty Ruff of the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut. “But do we have the equipment? I’d have to say no.”
Connecticut and federal officials have stepped up security at the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford, and the Coast Guard has implemented new escort procedures for vessels entering New Haven Harbor. In addition, military police remained on duty at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks yesterday.
Sgt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, said the force has been “at its highest state of alert” since Sept. 11. State police have heightened surveillance of commercial vehicles carrying hazardous materials and are making the state’s emergency response unit available to local law enforcement officials.
The unit is trained to deal with bomb threats and hostage situations. Since Sept. 11, officers have been training to confront biological and chemical weapon situations, Vance said.
Paluel Flagg, Connecticut’s emergency management coordinator for New Haven and Middlesex counties, said the state responded effectively in the days after Sept. 11 but remains vulnerable to new terrorist attacks.
“We thought we were ahead of the game,” Flagg said from his office in Middletown yesterday. “And then 9-11 came.”
Since the attacks, Flagg said the Office of Emergency Management has organized several meetings with representatives from Connecticut’s 169 towns and 21 cities. The OEM also began maintaining a catalog of supplies and equipment to gauge each municipality’s emergency response capacity, he said.
After a year and a half of research, the agency now has the draft version of a biological and chemical weapons response plan, and Flagg said the agency will make a final version public in the near future.
The plan will call for a high degree of interaction between state emergency response agencies and local law enforcement organizations.
Spokeswoman Judith Mongillo said the New Haven Police Department has increased its presence on city streets and is patrolling “central locations” more frequently since Sept. 11.
“I can’t be specific, but we’ve definitely stepped things up around the waterfront, airport, train stations and government buildings,” she said. “This is a public safety issue, not just a police matter.”
Mongillo said city department heads will be meeting this week to discuss preparedness and response procedures.
The NHPD has ordered new emergency response equipment, and the city’s hate crimes unit is working with local Muslim leaders to avert any retaliatory violence against Muslims and Arabs, she said.
Lisa Bull, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s New Haven office, said her agency has implemented new security procedures but would not discuss them.
Yale Police Chief James Perrotti said his department was cooperating with New Haven and FBI officials to address any security concerns in the city.
“We’re doing a general review of all the police and security on campus,” he said. “We have what we feel is adequate staffing levels so we have the proper amount of police officers on duty.”
“With the Yale properties there really is no major concern,” he added.
–Additional reporting by Gabriel Arana