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Remain Calm

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The Patrol Borough Stand Alone Plan identifies one ranking officer in each borough who serves as incident commander for his area, and it puts all the cops in that borough, regardless of their normal jobs, under his control. The concept is that there are huge numbers of cops spread across each borough ready to be deployed in a crisis. And since they don’t have to get from point A to point B, they’re not affected by the emergency.

“You can’t overlay New Orleans on New York City,” says Pulaski. “We’ve had 9/11, anthrax, blackouts, mass-transit strikes. We have a hierarchal system in the NYPD that’s proved itself in disasters. We really believe we can handle anything. But I don’t have to talk about how well I hit, I can just show you the back of my baseball card. Me, being the New York City Police Department.”

The City uses an all-Hazards plan, adaptable to whatever disaster occurs.

Pulaski says the city never waits for the Feds in an emergency situation. “Either we do it with them, or we do it ourselves. But we never wait for the Feds to take the lead.”

He points to the department’s performance during the blackout as evidence of its ability to deal with a major surprise event. “There was no warning on the blackout, and yet we got people over the bridges and safely out of the city. Without the subway. We established and manned ingress and egress routes and successfully stopped traffic from coming into the city. We created routes for emergency vehicles.”

It did not happen by accident. The cops have drawn up and drilled on—and in the case of the blackout, actually implemented—very specific emergency plans. Pulaski says that every precinct commander knows exactly what his responsibilities are. If, for example, an evacuation is called for, the city is divided into 150 evacuation zones.

“If I’m responsible for Zone One East, which covers Wall Street,” says Pulaski, “I know which pedestrian evacuation routes must be staffed. Traffic control knows where to stage their tow trucks and other equipment that may be needed to keep critical roadways clear. And I know the Williamsburg Bridge has to have the south roadway open for pedestrians, the north roadway open for emergency-responder vehicles, and there has to be one lane incoming and one lane outgoing. I know what my primary and alternate transit hubs are, and where I’m trying to move people because I’m in contact with the MTA and I know where the trains are.”

The planning is done under the all-hazards approach so that, at least theoretically, with minor alterations and tweaks, it is adaptable to whatever the crisis turns out to be. “As a precinct commander, I have one plan, not fifteen, that I have to memorize,” Pulaski says. “I just activate those elements I need. So if it’s a chemical attack, I know which bulbs to light up. If it’s a hurricane, I know my coastal flooding zones, so I light up a few different bulbs. When you’re a commander, the basic rule is, ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’ That’s the key to success.”

The cops automatically assume that, until it is proved otherwise, every crisis involves terrorism. So, appropriate force protection measures must be taken. In the case of the blackout, their immediate concern was protecting the bridges, where thousands of people were headed on foot to get out of Manhattan. A second attack is now always a significant worry.

“Depending on what the first hit was, we’ll know what the most likely subsequent targets would be,” Pulaski says. “At this point, our intelligence division stands up what’s called the Fusion Cell. It’s basically a joint-operations intelligence center with the FBI that’ll have a classified-information channel. Our air assets go up, and we’ll have direct downlinks from the air into our Fusion Cell. Lines of contact will be open with the MTA, OEM, Port Authority, and Fire Department so there’s coordination between agencies. That’s how it would play out.”

Despite Pulaski’s confidence, few people believe a full-scale evacuation of New York would be anything other than an interminable, nightmarish logjam. “You look at New York City and you know you’ll never be able to evacuate all of it,” Assemblyman Brodsky admits.

When I ask Pulaski about this, he takes an uncharacteristic pause. Then he answers with a question.

“What would happen that would require the entire city to be evacuated? I can’t think of anything.”

Unlike New Orleans and its levees, New York has no single point of failure, and it is difficult to imagine a situation in which the entire city would have to be evacuated. Except for one. A nuclear explosion.

It’s a little before nine on a beautiful morning with a slight breeze. The kind of morning that dawned on 9/11. Downtown, in the financial district, there is an explosion that essentially blows out the front of one building and damages several surrounding ones.


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