Even in small city, security is a big concern

As a student walks to a physics class on Science Hill, the Yale and New Haven police departments patrol the streets under his feet, and at least 10 federal and state agencies monitor Connecticut’s airspace overhead. Armed guards guarantee the safety of the nuclear power plant that feeds the lights in his classroom.

On his way back to his room, another dozen federal agencies track terrorist threats from abroad, and a technician in a Yale chemistry lab takes care to make sure volatile chemicals do not pass through the door unnoticed into the wrong hands.

For this student and all others at Yale, the varying missions of countless government agencies blend each day to guarantee small aspects of personal safety. A year after last September’s deadly terrorist attacks, public officials hope the result is security in an uncertain world.

As local, state and federal authorities work to protect every American, those responsible for private institutions like Yale hope to secure their own futures from the threat of terrorism. The goal in all cases is to protect lives, possessions, hopes and dreams. The means are part administrative and part philosophical; they have all been costly.

Each new department, security review and piece of equipment requires new funding. Cities and states are forced to rearrange their budgets. Yale, along with other academic institutions, has changed its priorities.

A broad range of leaders have made progress in guaranteeing the safety of students and residents in New Haven, both in very visible and more subtle ways. But much work remains.

Vulnerability

New Haven is not a prime target for terrorism. Even those whose political careers stand to benefit most from New Haven’s receipt of federal homeland security dollars acknowledge that Boston and New York City, each only a few hours away, are far more alluring for potential terrorists.

Still, Connecticut politicians have argued that New Haven should receive greater funding. Because the city is not an obvious target, they contend, it provides a perfect backdoor into larger cities that lie within a few hours’ flight, drive or train ride.

Even Tweed-New Haven Airport, the city’s small, one-airline way station, has received federal support.

The National Guardsmen who patrolled the airport’s sole departures gate in the months immediately after the attacks have given way to personnel from the federal Transportation Security Administration. The newly created agency, which Congress has charged with the federalization of the nation’s airport security, will station a small complement of licensed inspectors at Tweed. Given its short lines and small flight schedule, however, Tweed promises few of the long waits feared at the nation’s busier airports.

At New Haven’s Union Station, served by Amtrak’s embattled Acela service and two commuter rail lines, heightened concern has subsided. On Sept. 11 last year, New Haven emergency response personnel prepared to receive victims from New York City at the station. None arrived, and the waiting hall has since remained quiet save a few scares over suspicious packages thought to contain bombs or anthrax spores.

But Connecticut politicians, including U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., are less worried about land and airborne threats than they are about the state’s vulnerability at its harbors. New Haven’s port, touted as the busiest in the state, serves as the distribution point for much of New England’s vital oil supply and thus, some fear, a potential terrorist target.

To meet the perceived threat, the city has obtained $200,000 from the U.S. Marshals Service for security improvements. DeStefano and Lieberman have used New Haven Harbor as a backdrop for press conferences, and the U.S. Coast Guard has stepped up its patrols off the city’s shoreline.

In a press conference at the port Aug. 22, Lieberman pushed his vision for the proposed federal Homeland Security Department. More importantly, he recognized the difficult task DeStefano and other local administrators face: integrating the diverse parts of their own emergency response plans with those of federal and state governments.

“By coordinating their work through the new agency, we will bring — resources to bear in pre-empting future attacks,” Lieberman said.

Paying for protection

But the same acts of terrorism that are prompting municipalities, states and the federal government to pour massive amounts of taxpayer dollars into new homeland security ventures — even as economic hard times reduce revenues — are making it difficult for those governments to balance their budgets.

The money for increased security at high-profile targets like nuclear power plants, airports and government offices must come at the expense of security in other areas, or from budget lines earmarked for social services and other welfare spending. In most cities and states, the traditional solution — meeting the new demands with tax increases — is a political impossibility.

Now, after consecutive years of large surpluses, Connecticut state legislators are struggling to balance the state’s budget. State financial officers say a large deficit is likely.

In New Haven, which during the 1990s overcame years of financial disarray, hundreds of workers have accepted a government buyout this summer as administrators struggle to keep the city in the black. In a scene that is being played out in struggling municipalities throughout the United States, the city, still facing a drop in tax receipts, plans to reassign thousands of dollars in personnel and other resources for homeland security.

At an Aug. 11 press conference — held a month before Wednesday’s anniversary to avoid the “media deluge” — DeStefano acknowledged the city’s difficult situation. Federal money, he said, will be critical if New Haven ever hopes to adequately close its vulnerabilities.

“We need support to train,” DeStefano said at the event.

But demand from cities like New Haven, as well as a pre-existing economic downturn, is draining federal coffers: With the massive nationwide increase in defense spending and plummeting tax revenues, Congress quickly changed its predictions from huge budget surpluses to daunting deficits.

Local precautions

As cities across the United States face the challenge of paying for increases in security spending under tight financial constraints, New Haven is striving to meet its own goals.

DeStefano, with the help of advisers and politicians in Washington, has received state and federal money for harbor security, and new training and equipment for the city’s Fire and Police departments.

So far, officials consider themselves on target. In June, observers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — one of many agencies to be folded into a Department of Homeland Security — approved the city’s performance in a mass evacuation drill. On Tuesday, federal and state analysts will test the city’s bioterrorism response capabilities in a similar tabletop scenario.

After Sept. 11, DeStefano created a new Office of Public Safety to manage the city’s emergency response assets. The new office faces local versions of the same challenges presented to fledgling security administrators at the state and federal level. Coordination between diverse organizations and departments, each with their own mandates, presents a formidable logistical barrier.

Part of the office’s task is reaching out to institutions with their own security interests. Foremost among them is Yale.

Days after Sept. 11, Yale President Richard Levin established a task force to address many of the school’s own security vulnerabilities. University Secretary Linda Lorimer and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler began a lengthy review of Yale’s massive holdings.

Among the panel’s concerns was the University’s mail system. Following last year’s series of anthrax scares, the University made masks and gloves available to those who handle large volumes of mail.

University administrators have also worked to ensure the safety of nuclear materials and chemicals in Yale labs. An audit in May by the federal Energy and Agriculture departments found lab security to be sorely lacking at many universities that receive government funding. Some of Yale’s labs were reviewed, but none were mentioned in the report.

As administrators cooperated with the audits, the University increased the visibility of its security in other ways.

The Yale Police Department, in conjunction with New Haven Police, stepped up patrols on streets that bustle with Yale students. University officials also aided federal law enforcement personnel in the creation of new database that tracks foreign students. Some, unable to obtain the proper visas, found it difficult to return to Yale this September.

These efforts, some more visible than others, are signs that coordination is working, at least according to the officials backing them.

But the reshuffling of priorities continues. With different means at their disposal, Yale administrators, city officials, and state and national politicians hope to achieve the same goal.

Security, they hope, lies in crossing the lines of jurisdiction.

New Haven and Yale have spent the past year working with state and federal agencies to protect residents and students from terrorism. But security in the long run will depend on overcoming increasingly complex problems of jurisdiction and authority.
AFP
New Haven and Yale have spent the past year working with state and federal agencies to protect residents and students from terrorism. But security in the long run will depend on overcoming increasingly complex problems of jurisdiction and authority.

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