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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

NYPD Study Shows Atlantic Yards is High Risk

On July 1 the NYPD released a 100-page report titled Engineering Security Protective Design for High Risk Building. The purpose of the report is "to assist the New York City building community in preventing and mitigating the effects of a terrorist attack on a building." Norman Oder takes a look at Atlantic Yards in the context of the report and finds that the project is in the High Tier of risk rankings under the NYPD report. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC's) position that the project, and the modified project, doesn't require answers to the public's questions regarding the impacts of security planning and measures for the project.

But this report is from the Bloomberg Adminstration and raises a whole new round of questions that have to be answered by the City and State.

From Norman Oder on his Atlantic Yards Report:

NYPD's new warnings about high-risk buildings bolster argument for additional look at Atlantic Yards security

So, how close would the revised Atlantic Yards arena be from the street?

We don't know, nor do we know whether buffer zones are being designed into the facility. Nor do we know what the facility would look like, since Forest City Ratner says that designs that have emerged from new architects Ellerbe Becket are not final. (The rendering at right certainly puts the arena close to the street.)

But these questions have grown in importance, especially because the New York Police Department (NYPD) on July 1 released a new guide to security for high-risk buildings, a category that likely includes the arena and could include the flagship officer tower (Building 1) still planned.

As Alan Rosner, co-author of July 2005 White Paper (PDF) on terrorism and security issues regarding Atlantic Yards, commented, "They have done more with this single publication than the five-year community and local elected officials' effort to get the ESDC [Empire State Development Corporation] to take this issue seriously. The timing couldn't be better."

The example in Newark

Since news broke in October 2007 that streets around the Prudential Center in Newark would be closed (right) when major events are held, Atlantic Yards opponents and critics redoubled calls for a security study. It took weeks to learn that the arena, at least under the previous Frank Gehry design, would be the same distance from the street as the facility in Newark.

City and state officials have pledged that streets bordering the AY arena, notably busy Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, would not be closed.

Security in environmental review?

The ESDC, in its environmental review, said that state law does not consider a terrorist incident a "reasonable worst-case scenario." Indeed, in a January 2008 ruling on that lawsuit, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden agreed that, while the argument that the ESDC should have considered the threat of terrorism "raises genuine issues of public concern," the law does not require that level of detail.

(Yes, Forest City Ratner and NYPD have met on security issues; the issue just wasn't considered an opportunity for any public input. The ESDC told local elected officials that the arena, like Madison Square Garden, would operate without street closures. I pointed out that the Gehry design, at least, differed from MSG.)

Madden noted that the SEQRA (State Environmental Review Quality Act) regulations cite "facilities with some degree of dangerousness such as an oil supertanker port, a gas storage facility or a hazardous waste facility, and explicitly exclude 'shopping malls, residential subdivisions, or office facilities.' The instant Project is more akin to the latter category of excluded facilities."

Her decision was backed up by an appellate court, which observed in February “that the project at issue does not pose extraordinary inherent risks,” unlike, for example, the siting of a nuclear storage facility or a biological weapons laboratory. (A request for an appeal remains pending.)

Well, yes, and no. The addition of an arena, and the history of a planned terrorist attack at the adjacent subway station--not mentioned in the decisions--add a layer of concern. And the new NYPD report ups the ante.

Rosner observed, "The ESDC needs to authorize a Supplemental EIS [environmental impact statement] to address issues raised by constructing two high risk buildings next to an existing high risk transportation hub. Previous safety assurances offered by the developer from three years ago are no longer sufficient to warrant the modified project's automatic approval."

However, the ESDC, in a Technical Memorandum issued last month to accompany a revision of the Modified General Project Plan (GPP), indicated that neither the proposed modifications nor a delay in the plan would result in "any significant adverse environmental impacts" not addressed in the Final EIS. Security and terrorism were not mentioned.

The Modified GPP is set for a hearing July 29-30 and, presumably, approval by the ESDC board in early September.

NYPD guidance

The NYPD on July 1 released a 100-page report, Engineering Security Protective Design for High Risk Building, to assist the New York City building community in preventing and mitigating the effects of a terrorist attack on a building.

The study also creates a three-tier system designed to categorize buildings based on risk. Below, I go through the numbers, relying in part on Rosner's input, to suggest that the arena would likely qualify as high-risk under the NYPD scoring system.

(Shouldn't the NYPD let us know its general assessment of the arena under the new system? Is it High Risk or not?)

The need for more than 20 feet of standoff

One key security issue for the arena, as exemplified in Newark, is the concept of "standoff"--the distance from the street. As the graphic below shows, a person or vehicle with 100 pounds of TNT--the middle line--could easily cause fatalities if it got within 20 feet of a building, and maybe even within 30 feet.

The report (p. 31) notes:
Generally, owners of Medium and High Tier buildings should seek to maximize the amount of protected standoff surrounding a structure. However, available standoff in dense urban areas generally does not exceed the width of a sidewalk; moreover, this distance is only guaranteed if the building is protected with a hard anti-ram perimeter. In New York City, zoning resolutions setting street-to-wall requirements significantly limit the amount of standoff available to certain buildings. In such circumstances, the NYPD recommends that building owners consult with professionals about the possibility of applying for waivers, variances, or exemptions to allow appropriate protective design measures. When such exceptions are unavailable, or when protected standoff is insufficient, protective security design methods are crucial for achieving blast protection for key structural and facade elements.
(Emphasis added)

Should we expect "a hard anti-ram perimeter"?

As noted in the graphic below, a car is not needed to transport 100 pounds of TNT; someone could theoretically do so with a duffel bag or luggage. (You can bet there would be security cameras and personnel keeping watch, but whether they could deter, as opposed to assist in the investigation, is another question.)

The report (p. 16) indicates that standoff is crucial:
Design basis threat (DBT) is the magnitude of the blast from an explosive device that a building or particular building element should be designed to withstand at a specified distance. The magnitude of this threat is expressed in TNT-equivalent charge weight, and the distance in feet. For example, a building’s DBT may be stated as a 500-pound TNT-equivalent explosive charge at 20 feet of standoff, meaning the building, or the particular building element to which the DBT is assigned, must be able to withstand the loading associated with a 500-pound TNT-equivalent explosive charge, from 20 feet away. Increasing standoff and using building design techniques to harden structures may allow buildings and particular building elements to resist explosive threats that present abnormal loading.

The load a specific building element must withstand varies with both the distance and magnitude of the threat from an explosive device. The distance component of DBT takes into account the most probable scenario: that attackers will get as close to their targets as possible. For this reason, the distance component of DBT tends to be no more than the standoff afforded the building or the particular building element under consideration.

(Emphases added)

A High Tier building?

There's good reason to expect that the Atlantic Yards arena would be among the relatively few buildings that fall into the Medium or High Tier.

To determine the final risk score, the impact, vulnerability, and threat ratings are multiplied. So, 5 x 7.5 x 11 = 412.5, which is well within the High Tier, which starts at 288.

Even if we didn't split the difference and calculated scores of 2 for the three sub-factors under Vulnerability, the sum of 5 x 6 x 11 = 330, still well within the High Tier.

Indeed, whatever the number, I suspect that any large sports facility, given the size of the crowds, must be considered High Tier.

Stadiums and Arenas

Indeed, the report warns (p. 40) about particular dangers in sports facilities:
Seating bowls in stadiums and arenas present unique blast mitigation challenges because the pressure of a blast can cause seats to dislodge, leading to blunt injuries or death. Accordingly, the NYPD recommends that owners of major stadiums and arenas install primary structural elements and seating tie-down elements that achieve DBT levels in the M3 range from the true perimeter. The NYPD recommends that stadium and arena owners consult with blast engineers and the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau to determine site-specific DBT standards within the M3 range. The determination is based on analysis of expected casualty levels given variations in occupancy, charge weight, standoff, geometry, and structural hardening.

Read the full article for details on the Atlantic Yards risk factors and arena designer Ellerbe Becket's views on arenas and security.

Posted: 7.13.09
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