Cities boosting security for `orange' New Year's

Unprecedented efforts planned in New York, Las Vegas, at Rose Bowl

December 31, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The nation will face its first New Year's Eve on high "orange" alert tonight and cities across the country are increasing security at large celebrations.

In New York, where thousands traditionally gather to watch the famous ball drop at Times Square, an unprecedented security effort will include snipers on rooftops, twice as many metal detectors as last year, and helicopters flying above the crowd.

Holiday revelers in New York will encounter an enormous law enforcement presence including mounted police, plainclothes officers mixed in the crowd, and heavily armed officers known as the "Hercules" team.

In addition, the city will have emergency crews on standby including bomb squads and hazardous materials teams.

"Sadly, terrorism is something that we have to live with in this world," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference. "Our police department has done a great job in keeping us safe, and we expect tomorrow night to be no different."

In another layer of security, the Homeland Security Department granted New York's request for 24-hour air patrols with Black Hawk helicopters and Citation jets. The latter are Cessna twin-engine planes loaded with sophisticated high-tech equipment. The planes and helicopters are not armed but have radar and infrared technology to detect and track aircraft.

New flight restrictions are also in effect above New York, and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said officials are paying more attention to hotels this year.

In Nevada, the Homeland Security Department has banned certain flights above the Las Vegas Strip, the site of another large celebration which organizers said could attract up to 300,000 people.

A similar flight restriction has been in effect above Chicago since Dec. 24.

In Pasadena, Calif., local officials are gearing up for the Tournament of Roses on New Year's Day, which will include a large parade and a football bowl game televised worldwide.

More than 1,000 law enforcement officers will be deployed to patrol the streets, and electronic sensors will be placed around the city to check for biological agents. In addition, video cameras will monitor the crowds, and the federal government has placed flight restrictions above the parade and over the stadium during the game.

Officials around the globe -- including those in Paris, London and the Vatican -- were also planning to increase security at major New Year's celebrations.

In Russia, about 300,000 police received orders to deploy in city streets amid fears that Chechen rebels could take advantage of the night to set off bombs, several news agencies reported.

The U.S. government raised the nation's terror alert level to orange Dec. 21, saying that information from credible sources suggests that "extremists abroad" are anticipating attacks "that they believe will either rival or exceed" the ones on Sept. 11, 2001. Orange is the second-highest of five levels established last year to guide government response to terrorist threats.

In addition, Homeland Security officials said al-Qaida continues to consider using airplanes as weapons and is evaluating procedures in the United States and abroad to find security gaps.

Last week, six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles were canceled at the urging of U.S. officials because of concerns that they could be used as weapons against U.S. targets. But the investigation has not led to any terrorist plot.

On Monday, the U.S. government announced that it is requiring foreign airlines to place armed law enforcement officers on certain flights as an added security measure, if intelligence points to a possible attack.

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