By Captain Michael F. Cahill Jr., New York State Police, Troop F, Middletown, New York; Sheriff James Kralik, Rockland County Sheriff, New City, New York; Chief Robert Van Cura, South Nyack Grand View, New York, Police Department; and Chief Todd Hazard, Town of Cornwall, New York, Police Department
n September 11, 2001, 155 residents of the New York City suburban counties of Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan were killed during the attack on the World Trade Center. Many of the deceased were law enforcement officers and firefighters. While not having the resources of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) available, state, county, and local law enforcement in suburban counties were as committed as the NYPD to preventing another attack in their area. From this commitment has come the interagency cooperative effort to fight terrorism. Now, the federal, state, county, and local agencies work together through New York State’s Office of Homeland Security to field proactive counterterrorism action teams and intelligence officers to deter and prevent terrorist activities in their area and New York City using current resources.
On October 10, 2001, New York governor George Pataki signed Executive Order 113.34 establishing the state’s Office of Homeland Security. This executive order established 16 counterterrorism zones (CTZs) across the state. The CTZs emphasized the critical role that New York state law enforcement would play in combating terrorism. One of the more active and progressive CTZs within the state is CTZ-4.
CTZ-4 consists of New York’s Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan counties, 15 miles north and west of New York City and extending 80 miles north and 150 miles west. A number of the counties’ 742,348 residents commute to work in New York City.
The threat of additional terrorist activity in the 2,200 square miles covered by CTZ-4 is very real, whether it is an attack on their schools, commuter trains, and buses, or the housing of terrorist planning and training in its rural areas to attack New York City.
CTZ-4’s efforts are coordinated by its executive committee. It consists of a chairman and two vice-chairmen, with one representative from the state, the county, and the local law enforcement agencies in the zone. The zone consists of 60 local police departments ranging in size from 175 staff members to part-time departments. There are also three county sheriff’s departments and one state police troop.
The zone’s chair rotates every six months, among a local chief of police, county sheriff, or state police commander. The concept of shared leadership has been key in maintaining the departments’ involvement in the zone. After its formation, the zone immediately focused on establishing effective communication, creating comprehensive and coordinated plans to respond to terror alerts and attacks, developing intelligence collections protocols, and building working relationships with private enterprises. Keeping the public informed and involved is one of the zone’s principal goals.
Immediately after September 11, 2001, CTZ-4 members met to inventory possible terrorist targets in the area: various infrastructures, businesses, and commuter lines. The committee developed a plan identifying which targets required a police presence when the terror alert level was raised, and designating which of the 60 agencies would be responsible for posting personnel at each target location. As the national terrorist alert levels were defined, the zone’s deployment plan was refined to match staffing requirements at targets with alert levels.
As often occurs, there were more possible sensitive areas identified in the counties than personnel available to be assigned. CTZ-4 has a very large Jewish population with a large number of temples and yeshivas. To address the staffing problem, the zone established a system of triple checks, which requires that sensitive targets for which there were not enough personnel to post at the location, be checked at least once a shift by the local department, the countys sheriff’s patrol, and also the state police patrol.
The zone response plan to an elevation in the alert level has been tested four times. Within an hour of the raising of the national level, CTZ-4 personnel have been effectively deployed securing their identified targets.
Realizing that a terrorist event would require the response of many agencies, the zone developed police mutual-aid agreements by county, identifying command structure and responsibility. This cooperative planning continues for investigating a chemical or biological terrorist attack. Working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the health departments of Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan counties, the zone established investigative protocols detailing how to conduct interviews within the hospital environment and how to share pertinent confidential health information.
Interagency training, whether conducted by exercises or lectures, accomplishes a number of important goals (aside from the standard training goal). First, training for a terrorist event reminds everyone of the threat and fights against law enforcement complacency. Second, it builds interagency camaraderie. Last, it points out weaknesses in the system. For example, after attending a presentation on the Beslan School terrorist event, zone leaders realized if an event of that scope were to occur, a large number of tactical response teams would be required and would have to be able to work together effectively.
Nine months later, CTZ-4 conducted an exercise at a school that required coordinating tactical teams consisting of 150 state, county, and local tactical officers from different agencies to resolve a terrorist takeover of a school.
CTZ-4 has also conducted a red team exercise where over a three-week period, law enforcement officers from member agencies acted as terrorists planning an attack on a mall. Throughout the 2,200 square mile region that makes up CTZ-4, they attempted to buy large quantities of fertilizer, rent storage space and vans, and set up a headquarters in a motel.
The zone has also completed an exercise involving a terrorist takeover of a commuter train. The incident involved hostages, injured police officers, and an explosive radiological dispersion device discovered after the terrorists were neutralized. Both the red team exercise and the train drill were conducted under the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation guidelines and funded through New York State’s Office of Homeland Security.
Intelligence collection and sharing are keys to protecting our citizens against terrorism. In January 2002, the state police created counterterrorism intelligence units (CTIUs) in each state police troop. The CTIU has become the focal point for intelligence gathering and distribution. Their local e-mail system has been key to the zone’s ability to communicate information quickly.
In 2003, the state created the Upstate New York Regional Intelligence Center (UNYRIC) to coordinate intelligence information for the 55 counties north of New York City. In 2007, the UNYRIC was designated as the state fusion center and renamed the New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC). Locally, CTZ-4 created an intelligence committee and asked each agency to identify a member as a field intelligence officer (FIO) for their department. Both the local FBI officers and the New York City Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) became important members of this group.
The intelligence group shares information daily and maintains a number of databases in the New York State Safeguard System, which allows the zone to respond quickly to any terrorist threats against specific targets.
It proved its effectiveness Friday, July 28, 2006, after an increased concern of a terrorist attack against the Jewish community when a gunman shot six people at a Seattle, Washington, Jewish center. The zone’s database of Jewish community contact persons at temples and schools allowed the zone to make 562 contacts within 36 hours to inform and warn the Jewish community.
The intelligence group also supplies an intelligence briefing at the monthly CTZ-4 meeting. The briefings are given by federal, state, county, and local agencies. Rockland County has gone a step further, establishing a joint agency task force with personnel dedicated full time to intelligence. Other departments’ intelligence officers serve as detectives and patrol officers while also gathering intelligence. The zone maintains an excellent relationship with the New York City FBI office, the JTTF, and the New York City Police Department’s Counterterrorism Division.
CTZ-4 quickly realized how important private security and its involvement are in fighting terrorism. They can help identify possible terrorists and also supply useful insight to their industry’s susceptibility to a threat.
Rockland County already had a private sector security task force in place as a result of proactive security enhancements it made during the first Gulf War. CTZ-4 adopted its structure and expanded it to the other two counties. This group meets bimonthly. It consists of representatives from utility suppliers, hospital security, schools, health departments, mall security, industrial security specialists from chemical plants, water plant operators, transportation companies, and private housing security. Members have helped CTZ-4 supply input to the State Executive Committee on Terrorism regarding regulations and legislation involving chemical plants, utility suppliers, and schools.
The private sector group has also helped implement CTZ-4’s public information program concerning the state’s free terrorist hotline, 1-866-SAFENYS. The “See Something, Say Something” program encourages the public to report any suspicious activity to a state hotline, which is staffed 24/7 at the New York State Intelligence Center.
A meeting with the private sector group revealed that a separate group was needed to address schools. During the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, one of the greatest sources of confusion in CTZ-4 was what security steps should be taken at the schools. Some schools were sheltering their students in place, while others were dismissing and sending their children home to houses to which the parents would not return.
CTZ-4 established a working group consisting of law enforcement, a local district attorney, and regional school officials to address the problem. Protocols were established outlining what actions schools should take at each of the national terrorist alert levels. The School Protective Action Plan establishes at what alert level schools should be closed or dismissed, when after-school programs would be cancelled, and when access to the schools should be further restricted. It also established a formal communication flow from the CTZ chairs to the school leaders. These protocols have become the basis for plans eventually adopted by the New York State Department of Education and also by a number of other states. For details of the plan, go to www.nysed.gov and search the security section. (Figure 1 is a quick reference of school security steps to be taken at each alert level.)
The work with schools continues. The school group meets annually with school superintendents and maintains an e-mail intelligence sharing system to keep school officials aware of terrorist information regarding schools. CTZ-4 sponsored training for school officials concerning the lessons learned during the Beslan School terrorist event. CTZ-4 has also established a training program for school bus drivers detailing what action to take if confronted by a terrorist or hostile individual. As a result of this cooperative effort with the schools, the Regional School Superintendent Offices, Board of Cooperative Education Services for the three counties, were able to secure $12 million in federal grants for increasing school security.
In addition to the normal school security steps required by New York state law, CTZ-4’s law enforcement agencies visit each school building before school begins to discuss security plans and see if any physical changes have occurred in the buildings. Videotaping of the building’s interior and exterior is encouraged, as are visits by the agency’s emergency response team members.
Operation Safeguard is a New York State Office of Homeland Security (OHS) program that identifies the components of certain businesses that can aid terrorists. The OHS has created informational packages for specific types of businesses indicating material used by the businesses that could assist terrorists. The packages also contain information on how to identify suspicious individuals and how to report that information. After a state drill in fall 2004, OHS identified 12 categories of the Operation Safeguard businesses that had the highest possibility of terrorist activity.
During spring 2005, CTZ-4 established a committee to coordinate visits to each of the 12 categories of high-concern businesses. A specific month has been designated by the zone to conduct visits to each of the selected categories of business. The result of the safeguard visits are then entered into OHS Safeguard databases. Over 800 businesses are visited by the 60 law enforcement agencies annually. In September 2009, the businesses noted by the FBI Operation Vigilant Eagle were added to the Safeguard visit list and are now incorporated in CTZ-4’s annual checks. (See Figure 2 for a list of the businesses and months assigned.)
Counterterrorism Action Teams
After the bombings of the London commuter trains, CTZ-4 took its normal after-the-fact security action by detailing interagency teams to commuter train stations to look for any terrorist activity and to reassure the public. Frustrated, the group brainstormed to come up with ways to be proactive. The result was the creation of the Counter Terrorism Action Teams (CTATs).
Modeled after the NYPD’s Hercules Teams, these units randomly focus on areas within the zone that history has shown might be a target. The CTATs are composed of members of the 60 agencies within the zone. Each agency supplies personnel on a voluntary basis.
The first CTAT operation focused on CTZ-4’s commuting public. State, county, and local police officers, deputies, and troopers spread out to the 12 train stations and 12 major bus stations within the zone, conducting security checks, giving out informational flyers, and riding the trains and buses. (See Figure 3 for a copy of the flyer.)
At every chance, law enforcement engaged the commuting public in discussion, identifying what suspicious activity to look for and how to report it. The CTATs have also been deployed to shopping malls and schools and have conducted commercial vehicle checks throughout the region.
Public awareness and education regarding possible terrorist activity are key objectives of the CTAT deployments. Each CTAT activation involves over 40 agencies and 75 officers. It is coordinated by the CTZ-4 Executive Committee and involves four to six hours of personnel commitment from the law enforcement agencies in CTZ-4 once a month.
A byproduct of the CTZ-4 activity is the press’ accounts of the deployments, keeping the local fight against terrorism in the forefront and fighting complacency. It also sends a message to terrorists that CTZ-4 could show up in a proactive effort on any day at any location in the zone. The public has reacted extremely positively to the CTAT teams, and the law enforcement agencies in the zone feel they are getting a great return in both security and public relations for the resources they are devoting to it. There is also a great satisfaction in taking proactive steps instead of only reacting to terrorism.
Securing the City
Securing the City (STC) is a program funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Its objective is to deter and detect either a radiological weapon or a radiological dispersion device headed to or in New York City. CTZ-4, other counterterrorism zones around New York City, and the states of Connecticut and New Jersey have worked together to ring New York City with law enforcement staffed checkpoints to detect a radiological device. The leadership in CTZ-4 and CTZ-1 has played key roles in this effort.
This effort works. It has been seen first hand on two occasions. In 2008, an FBI informant identified a group in Newburgh, New York, who wanted to shoot down, with a Stinger missile, an Air Force plane as it took off from Stewart International Airport and to simultaneously place a car bomb at a synagogue in the Bronx. During the investigation, the group rented a self-storage vault to store the Stinger missile. As a result of past Operation Safeguard contacts by the local police agency, the clerk noted the group’s suspicious activity and called the local police. Even though the FBI had already infiltrated the group, the clerk’s call showed that Operation Safeguard worked in CTZ-4.
The second was the recent JTTF investigation of the individual who attempted to build a chemical bomb in Denver, Colorado, and travel to New York City. The counterterrorism zone leadership surrounding New York City was briefed of the activities in a 2:00 a.m. conference call. The zones were assigned tasks to support the JTTF investigation. Hundreds of Operation Safeguard visits were conducted and reported within three days. Truck rental businesses, hardware stores, and peroxide suppliers were visited by members of state, county, and local law enforcement to check for suspicious activity. This allowed members of JTTF and the FBI to conduct a number of key surveillances that identified others involved in the plot.
Counterterrorism Zone 4 is an example of how local, county, and state law enforcement can come together to actively address terrorism with no additional personnel or funding. While a location within CTZ-4 might not be a prime target for terrorism in the future, terrorists could and have started an attack on New York City from within CTZ-4. Law enforcement in CTZ-4 is committed to uncovering any such group and to securing the communities within its area. CTZ-4 has been able to take the steps it has in addressing terrorism only because of the unselfish commitment of law enforcement leaders, school officials, and private sector companies involved. ■