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