SPECIAL REPORT: Terrorist Alert in New Jersey, New York and Washington, DC; trucks restricted

| 8/2/2004

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning about potential terrorist attacks in New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, DC.

The terrorist threat level has been raised to Code Orange - the second-highest level on the federal government's scale - for the financial services sectors in New York City, Northern New Jersey and Washington, DC.

"We do have new and unusually specific information about where al-Qaida would like to attack," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said during a press conference. "This will allow us to increase protection in and around those buildings that require it, and also raise awareness for employees, and residents, and customers, and visitors."

"Reports indicate that al-Qaida is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York."

As part of the effort to prevent a terrorist attack, a series of security measures are being put into place, including several that apply to trucks.

That's because the information the warning was based on indicated that either truck bombs or car bombs might be used to attack the facilities included under the alert. In fact, Ridge said the intelligence suggested bombs in vehicles were "the preferred method of attack."

"You may expect to see special buffer zones to secure the perimeter of the buildings from unauthorized cars and trucks; restrictions to affected underground parking; security personnel using identification badges and digital photos to keep track of people entering and exiting buildings; increased law enforcement presence, and even robust screening of vehicles, and packages, and deliveries," Ridge said.

Federal officials have paid particular attention to missing trucks recently, including a tank trailer that was reported missing in April in New Jersey. That trailer, which contained materials that could be used to create explosives, is still missing.

Restrictions on trucks

In New York City, a series of restrictions - including many that apply to trucks - went into effect at 11 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 1.

Detective Bernard Gifford, who works in the office of the deputy commissioner for public information at the New York City Police, said several entrances into New York City are closed to trucks during the high alert period.

No trucks will be allowed in the Battery Tunnel or the Holland Tunnel. Trucks should use the Lincoln Tunnel or the George Washington Bridge to enter the city. Also, truck traffic that normally uses the Williamsburg Bridge should use the Manhattan Bridge.

Gail Toth of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association said the Holland Tunnel and Battery Tunnel closures applied only to traffic going into the city. The ban applies to all commercial traffic, including box trucks and vans.

Random searches of vehicles will be conducted on traffic coming into the city, with the most intense concentration of inspections occurring on the remaining commercial vehicle crossings into the city.

In addition, no trucks will be allowed on Wall Street or in the vicinity of Grand Central Station, Gifford said. The off-limits zone around the station runs from 42nd Street to 45th Street.

Toth added that all commercial traffic is restricted south of Canal Street - a heavy truck delivery location - in lower Manhattan. Press outlets reported that other streets in New York City and Newark, NJ, had been closed off as well.

Truckers should expect more inspections throughout the region. Toth confirmed that state and federal officials are stepping up truck inspection efforts within 20 miles of all of the possible targets.

"Any carriers that can reroute and avoid this area, if at all possible, should do so," Toth said.

More challenges on the Jersey side

In New Jersey, Gov. James E. McGreevey has issued a warning for Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Union counties - all of which are near New York City - placing those areas on Orange Alert.

Toth said inspections would be stepped up in and around the city of Newark, NJ, "particularly right down at the Prudential Building, the financial area of Newark."

Ellen Mellody, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Gov. McGreevey, said truckers should expect an "increased presence throughout the entire state, with uniformed and non-uniformed police."

Truck drivers should have all their ID, shipping documents and other paperwork readily available, she said, to help speed any inspections.

The area around Newark's Prudential building is an example of what truckers can expect in the areas identified by Ridge. Many of the streets are blocked, and emergency personnel, including numerous police, have surrounded the building. Concrete Jersey barriers have been placed around the building as well.

Mellody said officials had also increased security at all state and federal buildings in New Jersey.

Even if the official security code drops back to yellow, Toth said the heightened level of security is likely to continue through Election Day.

"We are at Orange here in New Jersey and New York," she said. "We are probably going to remain at Orange because of the Republican Convention and the elections."

Mellody said truckers can get updates on the situation in New Jersey, including updated road closings, restrictions and other security matters, by calling local police or the New Jersey Highway Patrol. They can also get information on the Web at www.nj.gov.

Toth said truckers are dealing the increased security well.

"The drivers have a good sense about what's going on," she said. "I haven't heard anyone complain about it. They're great; they know the routine, and they're very patriotic."

"The trucking industry was the only mode of transportation moving in this area of the country on 9/11," Toth said. "Our guys kept moving that freight. They kept the FEMA loads moving into the city; they moved the medicine into the city; they moved the flatbeds down there to gather out the metal.

"This industry never stops; we might be a little late on a delivery, but we will be there. They haven't shut us down yet.

"So much for those terrorists who think they can stop us; they're not going to stop the trucking industry."

Truckers also asked to be watchful

Just 11 days before the terrorist alert was issued, officials of the Transportation Security Administration had asked OOIDA to alert truckers to be extra watchful for possible terrorist activity during the next few months.

Several administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft, have warned that terrorists might attack sometime before the November election in an attempt to disrupt the democratic process. Some reports have pointed to the Democratic and Republican conventions, or the election itself, as possible targets.

Security in Boston, where the Democratic convention took place July 26 to 29. Measures at the Republican convention, which is scheduled for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 in New York City, are expected to be even tighter in light of the new warnings.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said truckers should be "especially vigilant and aware of suspicious behavior."

Drivers should be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary - things that in a trucker's experience look out of place or out of the routine - such as people taking pictures of shipping and receiving facilities or ports.

"Be especially diligent in terms of securing equipment, making certain that equipment is not stolen or easy to steal," Spencer said. "And be aware of when equipment does come up missing, i.e. tanker trailers and things like that."

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.