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Cities Address Security Issues As Black Out Continues

Aired August 14, 2003 - 20:18   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And, Wolf Blitzer, as I go back to you on the streets of New York City we are thankful tonight this is not a terrorist attack but we did see today how the federal government responds, how much that has changed since September 11th.
The new Department of Homeland Security getting a test here not on priority one, defending this country against a new terrorist attack but one of its other top priorities handling the federal government response when there are disasters or major events like this cascading blackout -- Wolf Blitzer in New York City.

BLITZER: You know, John, I think I speak for millions of people in New York City, elsewhere in the northeastern corridor of the United States, as well as in Ontario, our friends in Canada, when I say that the instant, especially here in New York City that the power went off and I was working at a desk, I was working at a computer. All of a sudden the lights went out. The computer shut down. I looked out and everything, of course, was dark. The immediate thought all of us had, God forbid, oh, oh what's going on.

Fortunately we are now being told this was of course not an act of terrorism or anything, a natural act if you will, lightning striking a power grid on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls, the Niagara- Mohawk power grid which provides power, electricity for so much of the United States and Canada that word coming from Canadian officials, officials in the office of the Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

It's getting dark here. Obviously it's pretty dark in New York City now. The pieces of light that we do see here in New York are coming from emergency generators. I haven't seen any restoration of electricity or power any place in Manhattan that I can see around the area where I am certainly.

I want to bring in CNN Security Analyst Kelly McCann. He's joining us from our Washington Bureau. Kelly, as it gets dark here in New York City and it's obviously dark right now, there are security concerns.

People remember potentially what could happen, what happened in the past when the lights went out, looting, other kinds of incidents. What are the precautions that local law enforcement personnel have to take right now, now that it's dark?

KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, almost immediately, Wolf, as the mayor reported earlier in his interviews, they got a high visibility of police officers on the streets basically to control traffic, number one, so that there aren't any injuries that way, and then certainly to police by a higher visibility to dissuade criminals from taking opportunities where they previously would not have existed.

Alarm systems, for instance, may not be redundant at this point so they might think that they could get into those spaces. Also police response times would be a little bit slower because obviously the draw down on police forces is greater during these periods so that's of concern but people would do well to basically take a breath, step back, use kind of a visual buffer area, if you would, obviously always safety in numbers.

Communities as they rise vertically in the air in New York City obviously can control their buildings to some degree just by having a presence outside which they'd be wise to do just to stay cool. So, I think there's more of a threat right now obviously from people panicking than there is from any immediate physical injury.

BLITZER: All right, Kelly, Leon Harris is in Atlanta. He wants to ask you some questions as well - Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, Kelly, I've got a lot of questions here about basically how it is that the police can actually, fortunately so far they've been rather lucky in that the New Yorkers have been rather calm throughout this whole process. What exactly can you tell us about what kind of backup systems they've got in place to make sure that they got people in the right places and they've got the equipment necessary to communicate between them all?

MCCANN: Well, in an operational plan what they basically do, Leon, is they've got nodes and those nodes would direct people or police assets to those critical nodes where the incidence of traffic, for instance the high intensity traffic would be greatest, where they think that there are lucrative targets, these are all pre-planned well in advance in their emergency response plans.

There has to be continuity plans, in other words what if communications does fail? If some of the police communication systems were to fail what is their backup systems? What are their redundancies?

So, all of that has obviously really, was accelerated after 9/11 and I think they're probably one of the most prepared agencies in the nation to handle things like this.

HARRIS: As we're looking at these pictures here, live pictures coming from our affiliate WCBS there in New York, we're seeing what appears to be lights coming on throughout the city, hard to tell exactly where these shots are coming in from but as we've been hearing throughout the evening from our reporters who are at various posts around the city, it appears that lights are beginning to come on in a rather sporadic fashion in various spots.

Here you see a shot from Queens looking over the Hudson, I believe, into Manhattan there. We're going to keep on these pictures and continue to watch this process. This has got to be rather heartening to the people who have been out there for hours now, four hours plus now in searing heat this afternoon and trying to make their way home by foot. This has got to be good news for them.

But, Kelly, considering the fact that there hasn't been, we haven't at least heard any reports of their being any loss of life or any complications of that serious nature here, this has been a great opportunity to see just how well this system that was put in place after 9/11 works. I've got to think that there's got to be some lessons that people are going to take away from this, people like you who are security specialists.

MCCANN: I'm going to take you a different angle, Leon, and say that there are some lessons to be learned from this.

HARRIS: I'm sorry, Kelly, can you hang on a second.


HARRIS: We've got to get your mike turned on. For some reason we lost your microphone. Do we have Kelly's microphone back, Kelly McCann?

MCCANN: Hello, Leon.

HARRIS: I can barely hear you, Kelly. I think we may have a problem with your microphone there. Can we try it again?

MCCANN: Sure, Leon, can you hear me now?

HARRIS: There we go.

MCCANN: You know, Leon, I'll take you down another angle which is basically that there are people who look and learn and, in fact, the people who were, you know, some people might have thought were responsible for this, al Qaeda, and now we know it's a natural occurrence but the bottom line is al Qaeda showed that they looked and learned during Egypt Air's situation that if you could take control of an airplane you could - there wasn't much that could be done to take it back under control before you could, you know, crash it into things.

Similarly, we know that they looked and learned at the traffic problems during the D.C. sniper incident. In almost every Special Forces operational manual throughout the world the power grids are a target but very few times do you have the chance to see what the result is when a power grid goes down and this is one of those opportunities that if there are people operating here in the United States they are taking not.

But they would also take note that although it would shut down a large corridor of the United States that the police and the emergency services are well prepared for this. There isn't panic. There wasn't any injuries as a result of people trying to, you know, being trampled as people tried to get out. So, I think it's an interesting occurrence but I think there's going to be learning on both sides of the coin here.

HARRIS: Tell us what you think could be learned here about how to better protect some of these power plants then.

MCCANN: Well, certainly you know we take for granted electricity and a lot of times a lot of focus is put on nuclear facilities, obviously that generate a lot of electricity.

But down the line from that nuclear plant or that other major producer of electricity you see fewer and fewer security measures and that's what has been of concern to a lot of security specialists in the United States is that down the line from the major site there are other very lucrative targets that could, you know, be attacked and create an awful lot of discomfort and exacerbate a situation if another attack, another attack type was to be coordinated with that taking of the power.

So, I mean that's initially what went through my mind here was although this was a natural occurrence, you know, could somebody take the opportunity to do something else and certainly they weren't prepared to. There was no intelligence to say that anyone had looked at this. There was no signals intelligence, communications intelligence.

When I made my calls as soon as I heard of this it basically was just stated that it was a natural occurrence; however, it does show what knocking a grid out of a major city will do and how many people would be affected, so I think that this should remind everyone that we still have a ways to go with security.

HARRIS: Yes, in fact on that note this sort of takes out of the world of theory that scenario that experts like you talk about this is now, it in fact (unintelligible).

Let's advise people who may be just tuning in or who are watching these pictures and they're wondering what they're seeing. What we're seeing here is what appears to be more and more lights coming on around the New York City area.

Once again we're seeing here, I can't tell. I believe this may still be that shot we had coming from Queens looking over into Manhattan. We were able to see through another wider, higher vantage point shot lights coming on all around the city in a rather sporadic fashion there.

We're also hearing some other news coming in from transit authority officials who are telling us that the subways are now clear. They're telling us that they have gotten everyone out of the subways. So the situation there appears to be getting better and better as the hours go by.

Mayor Bloomberg earlier this evening had said that perhaps power would be restored to New York by nightfall. Night has fallen and we are now beginning to see the lights coming back on in various points around the city.

We've also been waiting to see, we've been waiting to hear some word from President Bush who was traveling out in California this evening. We do know that he is going to be making a statement about this situation.

Let's go now to our John King who is standing by in Washington to find out exactly if we've learned any more about when President Bush might be speaking - John.


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