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Thread: Brooklyn Bridge Attack-proof

  1. #1

    Default Brooklyn Bridge Attack-proof

    June 20, 2003

    A Conspicuous Terror Target Is Called Hard to Topple


    Could one terrorist, or even several, armed only with blowtorches actually bring down the Brooklyn Bridge?

    A senior law enforcement official in New York said yesterday that the possibility was never taken lightly. "Apparently, there are ways that obviously we don't want to go into," the official said, "that make that easier than you might think, sort of along the lines of a domino effect in how they would attack that cabling."

    Another senior law enforcement official pointed out that the main suspension cables on the Brooklyn Bridge, as on many suspension bridges, are made up of many individual cables bound together and anchored at individual points on each side of the bridge.

    "You are vulnerable at one of those locations," the official said. "Because first of all it's enclosed you may not see the activity." But, he added, officers now patrol the bridge's sensitive locations, and alarms and sensors have been placed at those points. "If someone gets into proximity," the official said, "it sets off a camera."

    However, several engineers interviewed yesterday said they believed that even for someone with unfettered access to the bridge, a substantial amount of time and a lot of hard work would be required to do serious damage with acetylene torches.

    The Brooklyn Bridge turned 120 years old last month. Its designers, John and Washington Roebling, built it at a time when bridge collapses were common, and so they built theirs to be more than sturdy. Each of the four main suspension cables is more than 15 inches in diameter, containing 19 individual strands within it. Each of these strands contains 280 separate wires, all of which would have to be cut.

    "Think of the time it would take to cut through," said Matthys Levy, a structural engineer at Weidlinger Associates in New York and an author of "Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail."

    "If he had all the time in the world, sure," Mr. Levy said. "If nobody is watching him, he can cut the cable in half in a day or so."

    Even with explosives, he said, the job would be difficult, given the large amount of explosives needed to sever one of the cables and the access a terrorist would need to get the explosives near a cable. To take the bridge completely down, he added, a terrorist would need to sever more than one of the suspension cables.

    Guy Nordenson, an engineer and an associate professor of architecture and civil engineering at Princeton, said the Brooklyn Bridge would be even harder to damage than some newer bridges because, like many suspension bridges built before 1920, its deck is reinforced with girders.

    The Brooklyn Bridge does not only have vertical cables descending from the main suspension cables to the deck. There are also the distinctive radial cables, the ones that cut diagonally across, giving the bridge the appearance of what the poet Hart Crane called "choiring strings."

    Terrorists would have to cut many of these cables to endanger the deck, Professor Nordenson said. "Chances are that bridge deck's structure would transfer the load to the other cables and the bridge would be O.K.," he said, adding that the bridge's design was "really a belt-and-suspender situation there's a lot of redundancy."

    In 1981, two of the bridge's 600-foot support cables snapped, but the integrity of the bridge was not threatened. One snapped cable tore through the wooden planks of the pedestrian walkway. The other swung out over the East River and arced back, killing a pedestrian. Since then, several broken cables in the bridge's anchorage have been repaired and all the bridge's 1,088 vertical suspender cables and 400 diagonal stays have been replaced.

    "The thought of losing the Brooklyn Bridge is just something that you can't contemplate," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday. "It would be a disaster. But it's not going to happen."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Brooklyn Bridge Attack-proof

    June 21, 2003

    Terrorists on the Brooklyn Bridge?


    The day after federal law enforcement officials announced a foiled terrorist plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, Steve Curry laced up his tennis shoes, donned a green windbreaker and set out for his first walk over the bridge.

    Mr. Curry, who has lived in New York for five years, marveled at the stone towers and the spider web of steel cables as he and a friend from out of town walked toward Brooklyn. Mr. Curry said threats of terrorism were the last thing on his mind. "It still remains a symbol of ingenuity and engineering might," he said.

    Other New Yorkers strolling along the bridge yesterday seemed equally undeterred. Several said they made the walk regularly and did not intend to change their habits.

    "It's an invaluable thing for me," said Thomas Duddy, who lives in Brooklyn. "It's such an ennobling experience to walk under the towers. It's a form of meditation for me. It's spiritual."

    Federal officials said Thursday that Iyman Faris, a naturalized American citizen from Kashmir, pleaded guilty in May to charges that he had provided material support to terrorists. Officials said that Mr. Faris had planned to sever the suspension cables using blowtorches, but was discouraged by the bridge's structure and the level of security.

    The bridge is vulnerable because it is the only one in New York whose main suspension cables all come together at each end of the bridge, said a senior law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The cables meet in two small rooms, 15 to 20 feet below the walkway, and if the cables in either room were severed, the bridge would collapse, the official said.

    Last year the cable rooms were equipped with sensors and alarms, and police officers are able to respond to a tripped alarm in seconds and shut down traffic on the bridge, the official said. There are also security cameras and 24-hour foot patrols, and a police boat kept nearby.

    Yesterday morning, two police cruisers, their lights flashing, were parked at the Manhattan entrance. But Susan Licht, a Brooklyn resident, said, "I'm more concerned about getting mugged." She added: "All this stuff is window dressing. If somebody really wants to do something, they'll do it."

    Henry Taplitz said that when he was growing up in Brooklyn, it felt provincial and insular as it faced Manhattan, exotic and cosmopolitan. The bridge linked those worlds.

    "There are many bridges going into Manhattan," Mr. Taplitz said. "This is the only significant one. You went to Manhattan, you took the Brooklyn Bridge. It's really one of the glories of the city."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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