Smart cameras, armed guards to protect World Trade Center site

Sunday, February 26, 2006

NEW YORK -- Visitors to the complex that eventually will fill the World Trade Center site might have to submit to iris scans or thumbprint analysis to get into buildings, while smart cameras try to match their faces to a photo database of known terrorists. Well-paid armed guards would be on patrol and sensors would test the air for lethal gases.

Preliminary details of a plan to make the redeveloped 16-acre site as terrorism-proof as possible were provided to The Associated Press this past week by former FBI agent James Kallstrom, Gov. George Pataki's senior counterterrorism adviser.

Kallstrom and city and federal officials are aiming for a higher standard of security than is currently in use for public spaces around the nation.

"This'll be reflective of the times we live in," Kallstrom said. "The consequences of attacking here could have more significance to the terrorists. It has a lot of symbolism. It's going to be extremely well protected."

Construction is set to begin this spring on a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Freedom Tower, a 1,776-foot skyscraper that some say is having trouble attracting tenants because of security concerns. A transit hub, performing arts center and more office towers also are planned.

The security officials -- working with the firm that provided security at the Athens and Salt Lake City Olympics -- also are trying to avoid embarrassing public disputes. Last spring, architects working for developer Larry Silverstein were forced to completely redesign the Freedom Tower after the Police Department publicly aired concerns that the building might not withstand a truck bomb.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site and has its own police force, could share responsibility for the site with city police and highly trained, armed security guards.

"These will not be minimum-wage people," Kallstrom said.

Some of the technology under discussion for the site is still emerging, Kallstrom said, like the surveillance system that would try to match faces to a database of suspected criminals or dangerous weapons.

Sensors to test for possible bioterrorism could be used both inside buildings and in open spaces like the memorial plaza.

Kallstrom said the latest signal-boosting equipment for emergency radios would be built into the buildings, to avoid a repeat of the communication breakdowns that happened on Sept. 11.

Silverstein, the developer who plans to break ground for the Freedom Tower in April, and the Port Authority have said construction will exceed city building and fire codes, but the site owned by the interstate agency has never been legally required to submit to city inspections.

"No building should ever be above the law," said Regenhard, who wants regular city inspections of everything being built on ground zero.

McCarthy said the Port Authority welcomes city inspections at any time, but Buildings Department spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said the city has not officially received blueprints for any work at the site, and wouldn't conduct inspections unless that happened. McCarthy said Saturday that the Port Authority would send the blueprints to the city early this coming week.

Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.

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