- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Metro is scrambling to fund an emergency command center and high-tech sensors that detect chemical and biological weapons in the subway in the wake of the elevated terror alert that prompted officials to shut down city streets and set up checkpoints around the U.S. Capitol.

Metro officials said yesterday they will intensify lobbying for a $32 million request that is before congressional appropriations committees to fund construction of a backup command center.

The ability to maintain control of trains and monitor stations after a catastrophic event long has been Metro’s top priority, but the latest terror threat has forced the issue, officials said.

“The new Orange Alert underscores the urgency that these type of requests warrant,” said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for Metro.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Sunday increased the terror threat alert to Code Orange after “unusually specific” intelligence indicated that al Qaeda was planning attacks on five financial institutions in the District, New York and New Jersey.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams immediately raised the city’s alert level, and the Metropolitan Police Department heightened security around the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Northwest, two institutions identified in the threat.

Since the alert, Metro has sent SWAT-style troops armed with MP5 machine guns to patrol the stations. The U.S. Capitol Police closed a portion of First Street NE and set up more than a dozen traffic checkpoints around the Capitol.

Miss Farbstein said the alert will drive a more aggressive pursuit of funding from the Homeland Security Department and other government agencies for a variety of anti-terrorism programs which include:

• An expanded use of sensors to detect chemical and biological weapons.

• Preparations to enable the subway system to “recover” from a terrorist attack.

• Extra training of Metro employees and regional emergency workers for responding to an attack.

Yesterday, D.C. officials said the new street closures and security checkpoints around the Capitol complicated the city’s emergency evacuation plans and could strangle the city’s economy.

“I do believe if we start closing down streets one after another after another, it is going to have a dampening effect on the economy,” Mr. Williams said yesterday at his weekly press briefing. “With every fiber of our being as local leadership, we have to push back against this.”

Mr. Williams conceded that his efforts were not succeeding.

“Not apparently so far, but we will continue to push,” he said.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the city’s evacuation plans would be hampered by jersey walls demarcating checkpoints on First and Second streets and on Constitution, Independence, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania avenues.

“You put jersey barriers in the middle of the street on a major evacuation route, and it’s not like you can pick up a jersey bar and carry it to the side,” Chief Ramsey told WTOP Radio yesterday. “The solution is not opening and shutting down streets. … We’ve got to come up with permanent solutions to secure Washington, D.C.”

William Hanbury, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corporation, said at the mayor’s press briefing that tour groups or conventions have not canceled reservations, and hotel occupancy rates remain high.

However, Mr. Hanbury warned that continued publicity of the terror threat eventually would deter visitors.

“We have to have a welcoming, accommodating city,” Mr. Hanbury said. “We cannot have a closed shop, or it will start to have an effect.”

Miss Farbstein also said the alert had not kept away Metro riders.

The system carried 706,000 riders Tuesday, which is about 31,000 more riders than usual, she said.

Meanwhile, state police in neighboring Maryland began inspecting every truck entering the District on Route 50 as part of the anti-terrorism offensive.

The trucks are diverted onto Route 301, where police have set up a temporary inspection station with portable truck scales. The effort began Tuesday.

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