May 18, 2009 -- After what New York City authorities are calling a successful terror drill over the weekend at the World Trade Center site, the city is moving to expand a "Notify NYC" system that alerts residents and businesses by e-mail, text message and telephone to emergencies either city wide or in a targeted area or borough.
Often called "reverse 911" the system has been used or tested successfully in a number of other cities across the country as a way to move residents to safety in the face of natural calamities -- hurricanes, flooding or dam collapse and is also intended to work in terror or other "man made" emergencies, officials say.
In New York it has been successfully used, city officials say, in a pilot program across four neighborhoods. It was launched following the former Deustche Bank fire right off the site of Ground Zero. In that case residents did not know what was the source of smoke, or whether they needed to take shelter or evacuate.
City officials say the system has proved effective in the terror drill, a recent lower Manhattan building collapse and in the case of the recent planned but aborted second military flyover of the city. Any resident or business can sign up for the program at: nyc.gov/notifynyc.
On Sunday, the World Trade Center site was swarming with sirens and hundreds of police officers and firefighters for a drill funded by the Department of Homeland Security to test the emergency response to a bomb explosion , and consequent on-site incident management, search and rescue, mass casualty medical support, intelligence and investigation, and communications.
City officials said the full-scale exercise was a success.
NYC Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the exercise helped emergency responders "prepare for every possible situation."
New Yorkers Warned of Drill Ahead of Time, Following Air Force One Photo Op Fiasco
Sunday's rescue events, deemed Operation Safe PATH 2009, were part of an emergency response drill to simulate an Improvised Explosive Device bomb explosion in the PATH light rail system that goes under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey and has its most important New York stop at the site of the World Trade Center.
New Yorkers were warned ahead of time not to panic after last month's Air Force One photo op fiasco triggered fear and memories of 9/11 in many eyewitnesses.
Over 800 emergency responders participated in the training exercise, which the city says was the largest drill of its kind in recent memory. An additional 150 members of the NYC OEM Community Emergency Response Team played victims during the incident to simulate a real attack.
The PATH system was badly impacted by the Sept. 11 attack and, for a time, a train was trapped beneath the towers and just managed to get out before the collapse. Other railcars were crushed and left behind in the wreckage. Later, rescue crews went from New Jersey to New York in rafts in the half flooded tunnels to ensure no one was still trapped in the wreckage. No one was.
In 2006, mass transit in New York City was reported as a target of an early stage bomb plot.
In the aftermath of the London transit bombings that killed 52 people and wounded hundreds more on July 7, 2005, and the Madrid rail bombings in March 2004, as well as a number of smaller rail attacks or attempted attacks in Germany, India and elsewhere, officials have spent a great deal of time both securing mass transit systems, installing surveillance in those systems, conducting random searches and using bomb sniffing dogs and technology in efforts to prevent attacks.
Nonetheless, experts say the prospect of such a relatively low tech, high consequence attack is real, and response drills have become a fact of life in many jurisdictions with large transit systems.