By Dustin Brown
The Port Authority, the U.S. Coast Guard and regional utility companies will need a large influx of federal dollars in order to protect the region from acts of terrorism, their security officers told U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) at a homeland security hearing Tuesday.
For Con Edison and KeySpan, both private energy suppliers, the demand for federal assistance came as a new call, one for which they would never be eligible under ordinary circumstances. But the Port Authority and the Coast Guard, both public entities with budgets that were stretched far beyond their means by the Sept. 11 attacks, were looking ahead at the high cost of providing security under the new threat of terrorism.
Crowley convened the hearing, which ran for three hours in a small room at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, to gather information for a report on New York’s homeland defense requirements, which he will submit to the White House.
On Sept. 11, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey lost 75 employees, including 37 of the agency’s police officers who died trying to save people from the towers, Director of Security John Paczkowski said.
The Coast Guard then rescued countless people from Lower Manhattan over the course of the day, Rear Admiral Richard Bennis recalled.
In the following week, Con Edison restored electrical service to Lower Manhattan in time for the financial markets to reopen on Monday, Sept. 17, according to Terrence Cox, the company’s director of security services.
Although their accomplishments following the Sept. 11 attacks were many, underlying the testimony of all four men was the urgent need to obtain monetary assistance from the federal government to support their preparation for another onslaught of terrorism.
Bennis said the Coast Guard was requesting more funding in its budget to update its equipment and increase staffing, which was strained by an enormous jump in the frequency of their marine patrol.
KeySpan Energy will be turning to the federal government for “some additional funds to offset some of the expenses we’re incurring,” according to Ron Thompson, the utility’s security director. Con Edison, which endured major collateral damage to its facilities from the attacks, expects to do the same by finding a public sponsor.
But security concerns must be weighed against practical considerations, they all agreed, most notably the cost and inconvenience that accompany a heightened state of alert.
The Port Authority, which operates many of the region’s bridges as well as the airports and some bus and marine terminals, faces the Herculean task of guaranteeing the security of the region’s transportation networks. But checkpoints at bridges delay traffic, baggage security creates lines at the airport, and the cost of such security measures — in both hours and dollars — could be great.
“We have to be very careful about pricing people out of the market because if we do that we’re playing right into the hands of the terrorists,” Paczkowski said, warning that the full cost of security cannot be absorbed in the price of a ticket or a toll.
Con Edison, meanwhile, is a private company that has to keep in mind its “obligations to ratepayers and stockholders,” Cox said. “We still have to keep the price of electricity affordable.”
All four representatives said their security strategy calls for opening the lines of communication between their organizations and law enforcement agencies of every level.
Cox and Thompson also assured Crowley that they have put security measures in place to protect the integrity of their facilities in the event of attack.
“I envision if you want to knock out the city, cause havoc, it would be to hit one of your facilities,” Crowley told them both.
Cox responded that Con Edison is an unlikely target because the goal of modern terrorists is to “create casualties” rather than to “inconvenience people.”
“If we lost a major substation, a lot of people would be in the dark … but they wouldn’t be dead,” he told the congressman.
But an attack on KeySpan, as a gas company, could produce more dire consequences.
“We can be a target, we are a target,” Thompson said. “As a result, we’re looking at hardening our locations.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.