In a Sign of the Times, The City Begins Deploying Radiation Detectors
by William K. Rashbaum, New York Times
As a part of the Police Department's new measures to guard against potential terrorism, radiation detectors will be installed outside several city buildings, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday. City Hall will probably be among the locations, he said.
The police department installed one of four of the new portable detectors outside police headquarters in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, and officials said another would be set up outside the building's garage. The department's bomb squad and its emergency services unit will use two others.
"There will be those sorts of devices in other city buildings, when and where I can't tell you specifically, but clearly that is the goal of the city administration," Mr. Kelly said, adding that City Hall would probably get one.
The devices, which cost about $11,000 each, could help spot a so-called dirty bomb, a conventional explosive wrapped in radioactive material.
Such detectors, according to one official familiar with their use, are already used in Washington, outside the White House and the Capitol.
Yesterday, at 1 Police Plaza, some police officers, officials and visitors passed through the unobtrusive detector unperturbed, but others took notice. "It's kind of scary it's a little too close for comfort," one officer said.
But Mr. Kelly said prudence demanded the use of the devices, each of which are anchored by a pair of black cylinders about 7 feet tall and 3 inches in diameter.
Several other officials in New York and Washington agreed with Mr. Kelly.
"I think the kind of vigilance the Police Department is using is right on target," Jerome M. Hauer, the director of the federal Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a telephone interview. "As we continue to have heightened concerns about potential threats in this country, I think it's important to look at critical facilities like police headquarters and use the best available technology to protect them."
Mr. Hauer, who was the director of the city's Office of Emergency Management from 1996 to 2000 under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, said, "We have to be concerned about unconventional weapons, particularly one that is not necessarily a weapon of mass destruction, but certainly a dirty bomb is a weapon of mass disruption because of the anxiety it creates."
He said such a bomb could sow panic by spewing radioactive material and contaminating an area of several square blocks.
Police officials have said that the radiation detectors were bought as a precautionary measure and that there had been no specific threats that prompted their installation.
The devices, manufactured by a Longmont, Colo., company called TSA Systems Ltd. and sold by Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors in Solon, Ohio, were originally designed for use at nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities in case of accident, said Charlie Schnurr, vice president of TSA Systems. The federal Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, required the installations, Mr. Schnurr said.
The detectors can be set up in just minutes and weigh 90 pounds each, according to TSA's product information. They can be packed up into a storage bag about 6 1/2 feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide.
They will supplement about 250 belt-worn radiation detectors that the department also bought from Saint-Gobain, Mr. Kelly said. Those devices are designed to form a sort of moving detection curtain so that police officers can be on the street interacting with the public as they seek to detect radioactive material.
Saint-Gobain's regional sales manager, Jim Mondine, said the larger portable detectors could serve many purposes, not only for the city and the Police Department, but also for the private sector. "These would be ideal to set up, say, at Yankee Stadium at a baseball game," he said, "or in front of the New York Stock Exchange."
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