Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
In Case of Emergency, Is Times Sq. Ready?
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
New York, NY —
For the hundreds of stores, hotels, companies and theaters that populate Times Square, Saturday's failed car bombing raises the question - are businesses prepared to deal with a real emergency in the middle of one the busiest districts in the world?
Tim Tompkins is president of the Times Square Alliance, an association of property owners and businesses in the theater district. He says security is something they actively think about and many businesses discuss hypotheticals to prepare for the unexpected.
TOMPKINS: They call it a tabletop exercise where you say, okay, here’s a scenario. Let’s say some incident happened somewhere. And you have people go through the exercise of what they would do – who would they notify, what would they do. Again- a lot of it comes down to communication because it also helps people know how to react.
REPORTER: Tompkins says in the most serious cases evacuation plans will be set in motion. Like at the Mariott Marquis which evacuated about a thousand guests facing 45th Street Saturday night. Hotel spokeswoman Kathy Duffy says the smoothness of the evacuation was proof that their safety drills work. WNYC's Ailsa Chang asked her what kinds of drills the hotel conducts and it wasn't clear just how much terrorism training goes on.
CHANG: So what are some examples of crises that you have simulated? Like, a dirty bomb? Like, give me examples. DUFFY: I really can't give you examples because that would compromise our security. CHANG: Well, did you guys ever envision a car being parked near the building filled with explosives? Was that ever a drill? DUFFY: We don't speculate on crises. We come up with crises that we, that may affect a hotel. And again, it could be something as simple as a guest being stuck in an elevator, to a storm.
REPORTER: Duffy says the challenge of securing a hotel with more than 2,000 guests on any given night is a complicated one. She says hotels are essentially public places,new faces are constantly streaming through the door and can access any guest floor during the day. Terrorism security expert Neil Livingston says hotels are some of the most vulnerable structures in New York City.
LIVINGSTON: Hotels are particularly difficult. You have all this baggage. You have cars that are coming in and out. You have suitcases. There could be a bomb in a suitcase for that matter.
REPORTER: Livingston says the most important reason no one was hurt on Saturday was because the bomb failed to detonate. Had there been an explosion, he says, the Marriott wouldn't have been so lucky. Livingston advises hotels on how to protect their buildings against terror acts in regions like the Middle East and Central Asia. He says the type of construction used in those foreign areas just wouldn't be feasible in a place like Times Square.
LIVINGSTON: The price of real estate there is just so expensive per square foot that they’re going to use every inch of it, and they’re not going to really spend a lot of time trying to put up blast walls and barriers and so on that would make the building more impervious to some type of attack.
REPORTER: Livingston points out hotels in Times Square are never set back from the street. Their entrances are often made mostly of glass. He knows of no hotel in the area that uses laminated glass, which shatters less easily. The best way to protect yourself against terrorism, he says, is to disrupt it before it happens. That means good intelligence - and for New Yorkers - If you see something, say something.
For related stories on the Times Square Terror Plot, click here.