N.Y. City Safety Officials Reassure Public After Steam Pipe Blast

July 25, 2007

Although last week’s steam pipe explosion in New York City raised worries about the city’s vulnerability to attacks, law enforcement officials said this week they aren’t concerned that it might have given terrorists any ideas.

Federal, state and city law enforcement officials have run “what if” scenarios of catastrophic damage to infrastructure, and have bomb blast models that they analyze in detail, said Michael Balboni, the state’s chief of homeland security.

“The bad guys have already had these ideas, but the good guys have had them, too,” Balboni said.

Potential targets, including underground power lines, water pipes and key manholes, are identified and protected to safeguard the city, Balboni said. Manhole covers are routinely sealed for high-profile events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square or 2004’s Republican National Convention.

Law enforcement officials agree that it’s virtually impossible to prepare for every conceivable attack that terrorists might launch.

“There are limitless scenarios,” said Paul Browne, New York’s deputy police commissioner for public information. But history has shown that terrorists would be likely to choose “more obvious targets,” and those are the areas where the city concentrates its anti-terrorism efforts, he said.

“What we’ve seen since 9/11 is repeated attempts to come back to New York, to the financial district, as a way of striking at America’s economy,” he said.

The cause of last week’s explosion remains under investigation by Consolidated Edison, the private utility that owns and maintains the 83-year-old steam main that exploded Wednesday underneath a busy intersection just south of Grand Central Terminal.

The blast caused the death of a woman who suffered cardiac arrest and injured dozens of others, and it brought traffic and commerce to a virtual standstill for several days.

Within several minutes of the blast, officials ruled out terrorism. Since then, law enforcement officials have not attempted to replicate the explosion in an effort to deter a future act of terrorism, Browne said.

Con Edison owns much of the city’s underground pipe system is owned by Con Edison. Law enforcement agencies work with the utility, other private companies and public authorities to help ensure that vulnerable areas are protected, Balboni said.

Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert said the utility closely monitors its system and frequently communicates with law enforcers.

“The company is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating its security procedures based on the information we receive from law enforcement agencies,” he said.

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