New York City’s police, along with city health officials, federal authorities, and other agencies, is preparing for an attack with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, the New York Times reports. Meeting in secret and conducting complex drills, the department has brought together government agencies in a broad effort for much of the last year. It has put together a program that some experts say is unrivaled among American cities.
Special units have trained and drilled to board cruise ships from helicopters and piers and have begun reviewing floor plans of large theaters, conducting exercises inside some to improve their ability to respond to an attack. This spring, police will work with the city health department and other agencies to determine how to test the air across the city for biological agents quickly and constantly. The police have begun to prepare for a sweeping citywide plan to get antibiotics or vaccine to every resident after a widespread attack with biological weapons; it is drafting plans for about 200 sites that could function as distribution centers. One drill has prepared for a chemical weapons attack that would litter the streets with contaminated bodies. “We’re thinking about the unthinkable – what a few years ago was the unthinkable,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. “It’s something we’re trying to take head-on, but the scope and magnitude of the problems are daunting.”
“They are trying to do what Washington is supposed to be doing, but isn’t,” said Richard Clarke, a former national security official.
The Times describes recent exercises in which officials brainstormed over the novel problems an attack could pose. Tomorrow, the police are scheduled to begin chemical and biological training for entire units with the goal of having 10,000 officers ready in time for the Republican National Convention, scheduled for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 at Madison Square Garden. The department is helping write guidelines so detectives and FBI agents can conduct joint investigations with city health epidemiologists in the event of a biological attack.
Some observers say preparations are not so effective as they may seem at first glance. “The traditional rivalry between the police and other departments is worse than ever,” said Jerome M. Hauer, a former acting assistant secretary of health and human services for biodefense in the Bush administration who now heads a biodefense center at George Washington University. Hauer served as New York City’s first emergency management director. A spokesman for Kelly, Paul J. Browne, dismissed the criticism, noting that Hauer campaigned for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s onetime rival, Mark Green.