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New York City water facilities are potentially vulnerable to biological or chemical attacks because security falls considerably short of meeting federal and state guidelines, according to an alarming new report released yesterday.
As reported by Associated Press writer Lukas I. Alpert, the findings detailed several gaps in security at facilities within New York City's water system, which serves 9 million people.
The report claims fences were vulnerable to intruders, buildings could be accessed with little resistance and detailed maps could easily be gathered.
"I'm not trying to be an alarmist, I'm not trying to create fear. I'm simply saying that something as important as the security of our water system has to be handled in a very, very careful manner," Assemblyman Jeff Klein, chairman of the New York State Assembly Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation, told Alpert.
The report compiled by the panel found that security at the facilities failed more than half of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health guidelines.
The committee's findings were based on several months of analysis using a 21-point security checklist at eight water facilities within the region. The report detailed what was found at the five facilities in the city, but did not disclose their specific locations.
The list included checking windows, doors, fencing and site construction. A general category examined such things as whether restricted access signs were clearly posted with phone numbers, so that suspicious activity could be reported.
"Unfortunately, what we found was very startling," Klein said.
Not one facility was in complete compliance with federal standards regarding fencing, the report said. In some cases, fences had holes or gates were unlocked.
At some sites, doors were found with hinges on the outside, where determined vandals with hammers and screwdrivers could remove them.
At two facilities, members of the team were able to gain access and photograph the interior of buildings without being questioned.
Perhaps most alarming, Klein said, was the ease with which information about the facilities, including detailed maps, could be gathered from public records and on the Internet.
Charles Sturcken, chief of staff of the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the water supply, said the agency has been working with federal and local experts since 1998 to improve security.
"We have strengthened our police forces and are spending $35 million on improving security systems for the water supply and will continue to do so," he said. "In fact the federal EPA has told us we are years ahead of other municipal water systems."
Sturcken said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, because the locations of the facilities were not disclosed, and because a detailed copy had not been delivered to the agency.
He said that on several occasions, the department offered to brief Klein on its security measures.
The report recommends the city make several changes, including supporting neighborhood watch groups to monitor activity around facilities. The report also suggests the city ask Web operators to remove sensitive information.
Alpert placed a call to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, but it was not immediately returned Sunday. Ed Skyler, a spokesman for the mayor, said that the city department of environmental protection takes "every conceivable precaution" to protect the water supply.