Sunday, May 17, 2009

First responders Operation Safe PATH 2009

First responders Operation Safe PATH 2009

Hundreds of firefighters and police swarmed Ground Zero Sunday, the site where the World Trade Center once stood, in the largest security exercise here since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

As part of an elaborate dress rehearsal for a possible future terror strike, rescue workers exploded simulated bombs in a commuter train tunnel linking Manhattan to neighboring New Jersey, burrowed beneath the Hudson River.

"Full-scale exercises like today's give us an opportunity to practice how to integrate the vast response resources available in New York City and establish a command structure under the Citywide Incident Management System," said Joseph Bruno, commissioner at the city's Office of Emergency Management.

As the tunnel filled with smoke, scores of firefighters wearing oxygen masks practiced maneuvers to rescue some 700 to 800 passengers -- the number who might be expected to become stranded along the vital commuter line in the event of a real disaster.

In fact, there were about 150 volunteers playing the role of passengers aboard the train early Sunday, usually a time of light travel along the city's commuter train line.

The simulation closed to the public the train station at the World Trade Center, which links southern Manhattan and the New Jersey town of Newark.

Several streets in lower Manhattan were also closed to pedestrians and vehicular traffic as emergency vehicles, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, filled the city roadways.

The scenario played out early Sunday simulates an explosion that does not cause major damage to the tunnel, but causes a loss of power to the train and an interruption in communications.

The workers drilled their response to simulated blasts on two separate train cars shortly after 8:00 am (1200 GMT), in an exercise lasting about two hours.

New York's deputy mayor for operations, Edward Skyler, said the elaborate drill would help harmonize emergency operations among various agencies across the city.

"Today's exercise was particularly important because it demonstrated the commitment our emergency personnel are making to training and to cooperation among both city agencies and other parts of government," he said.

Skyler added a few words of praise for the ambulance workers, rescuers and police often referred to here as "New York's Finest."

"I am always impressed by the professionalism of our public safety personnel respond to challenging emergencies," he said.

New York is still scarred by the September 11 attacks in which Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked two commercial planes and slammed them into the World Trade Center, destroying the iconic twin towers.

Just under 3,000 people were killed in the attacks in which two other airliners were also hijacked, one slamming into the side of the Pentagon and the other crashing into a Pennsylvania field after passengers overpowered the hijackers.

Reconstruction at Ground Zero, where the hijacked airliners destroyed the Twin Tower skyscrapers, has barely begun. Meanwhile, the area remains under high security.

Last month office workers near Ground Zero panicked when one of President Barack Obama's official planes flew low over the site and the nearby Statue of Liberty for what the White House said was a photo shoot.

Copyright AFP 2008