- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

NEW YORK — The supersized security at the Republican National Convention extends to the food, with agents from the Food and Drug Administration ready to stand outside Madison Square Garden, thermometers in hand, to take the temperature of the food entering the complex.

Safety specialists here are bent on ensuring patrons of the convention are more protected than they have been at any other national event in history.

Therefore the FDA health police are making sure that hot food entering Madison Square Garden and the press area across the street is over 135 degrees and cold food is under 41 degrees. In other words, safe to eat.

“This is quite different than anything we’ve done before,” said John Schrade, FDA Northeast Region director. “We are also doing security checks on all caterers and even their suppliers. I am bringing in 12 food specialists from around the country. We are working with the Secret Service on this and we also have the help of 21 workers from the New York Department of Health.”

A bevy of armed security joins them in their safety mission with more police officers walking leisurely along the streets as the Monday opening of the convention looms.

In Penn Station this week, small groups of officers from the New York Police Department Emergency Services Unit patrolled in full armor, complete with bulletproof helmets, both hands grasping 3-foot-long black M-4 assault rifles, barrels pointed at the floor.

“We know how serious this is when they get these out,” said one officer, nodding to his weapon, while standing 60 feet inside the entrance at Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street. “These things, once you start firing them, really get the job done.”

Getting the job done, though, is really all about getting the business of the convention over and participants out of town without serious incident. Which is why there is the stunning number of offices, agencies and bureaus, 66 in all, working together to assure the peace through extensive preparedness.

The Secret Service is inside Madison Square Garden running the security show, which is so secret that the agency won’t even divulge the number of agents involved. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are patrolling the compound and nearby streets with explosive-detecting dogs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has the bases covered for medical treatment and body recovery in case of an attack. The U.S. Coast Guard has boat teams patrolling the waters surrounding the 22.7-square-mile Manhattan island. And the customs and border protection agency is using its X-ray machines to scan commercial vehicles and delivery trucks.

Small detection machines that check the air for chemical, biological and nuclear materials will complement the surveillance cameras that have been installed in recent months throughout the city.

“These cameras are not just around Madison Square Garden,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. “But we can monitor them all from one spot.”

One source said there also is technology in place that can shut down all cell phone communication around Madison Square Garden in case of some kind of trouble. Mr. Browne declined to comment on that report.

“People won’t even know these things are there,” said Bo Dietl, a former NYPD police detective and founder of investigative and security services firm Beau Dietl & Associates Inc., which is doing work for the convention. “This is all stuff that has been around for a while but it is rarely used.”

In addition to the mountain of technology, an army of city police, federal agents and private security personnel breaks down to, according to one local alternative weekly, one officer for each 2.4 persons attending the convention.

Concrete walls and 6-foot-high metal barriers will surround Madison Square Garden. All vehicles entering the area will stop between two metal walls, where video cameras will inspect their undercarriages for bombs.

Mailboxes, manholes and newspaper vending machines have been sealed shut, and garbage cans have been removed from the area.

Police and security guards around the convention hall watch the masses constantly, and, after the convention starts, those who misbehave could end up at Chelsea Pier 57 on the Hudson River, which has been converted into a temporary jail in case mayhem ensues.

The comprehensive, ubiquitous coverage is a welcome police state for some and a Big Brother nightmare for others.

“I’d bring my family in here for this convention, in fact I’d love to be going,” said Ron Bivona, 35, a high school teacher from Sparta, N.J. “I completely trust the men and women in blue.”

On the other side, the protest crew is sure that the thick layer of law enforcement is going to be the problem.

“I think the police are going to cause a riot,” said David Rubinson, 62, a retired record producer whose clients include Santana. He is among the formidable anti-Bush force that dominates the city and plans on making its feelings known via rancorous demonstrations.

The protesters are not what the police say they are so wary of. Rather, it is the chance of a terrorist attack that has the national terror alert level at orange, or high. Even a foreign assault, though, is a remote possibility in an area so intensely blanketed by the law.

“If I were to put odds on the likelihood of a disruption, I think the possibility that these protesters are going to become violent is more likely than terrorism,” said Christopher Falkenberg, a former Secret Service agent and president of Insite Security.

The first test of police coordination comes tomorrow, when the largest of the protests takes place, a march with an estimated 250,000 people that will end up in front of the Garden.

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