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Homeland Security

All visitors must be announced -- not to mention interrogated and frisked. New York's doormen are being drafted for the war on terror.

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He can chat about the weather, deliver urgent packages, and help you when you're locked out. But can your doorman keep out Al Qaeda?

Mike Fishman thinks so. "We'd like to be the third leg, after fire and police. We're in every building," says Fishman, the president of Local 32B-J/SEIU, the Building Service Union of New York, which represents doormen, supers, and building staff. "We'd like to coordinate citywide procedures like evacuation plans, even checklists on how to look for terrorist behavior."

It's always been a doorman's job to stop unwanted visitors. But since last month's FBI revelation that terrorists considered targeting apartment buildings, stray drunks and menu distributors have become secondary worries. In fact, the union recently negotiated $1 million a year from building owners for safety and security training.

"Doorman responsibilities will become security, not hailing a cab," says Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums. She raises the prospect of resident I.D.'s, package screening, and close grilling of visitors. But some tenants, preferring Jeeves to Rambo, are unimpressed. "Doorpeople are hired based on good manners, not the ability to perform in the face of extreme pressure," says one high-rise tenant. "I will sleep no better at night if my doorperson receives training in responding to a terrorist act." Adds one Upper East Side super, "I don't think medical or self-defense is part of the duty."

What the new training will consist of remains unclear (though it's safe to assume that dirty-bomb defusing won't be on the test): "It still needs to be determined," says Fishman. That's an understatement. Asked last week for their reactions, several doormen hadn't heard a word. "There's training, but nothing new," said Luis Cortes, who helps man the lobby at 417 Park Avenue. "They told us not to leave the door, to keep an eye out." Up at 563 Park, doorman Ernie King said it's business as usual: "Maybe the board is going to be more careful when people want to move in, but nothing down here. It's just another day." Others were more gung ho: "I'm all for new training," says Jerry Tavila, an East Side doorman. "I'm always interested in new ways to help tenants." And over at the Dakota, they're "monitoring the service entry more," says representative Judith Willke.

The cops seem surprisingly agreeable to the prospect of ad hoc deputies. "Just being inquisitive can be a real deterrent," says one NYPD patrolman. (Doormen, after all, know building gossip like nobody else.) "They really know the human side of the buildings, and that's helpful, especially in an emergency. I heard they were very helpful on 9/11."

One cop suggests that a really at-risk building -- say, near the U.N. -- could install its own airport-style chemical sniffer, a $50,000 device that detects bomb-making materials. He adds, hesitantly, that firearms could also be an option: "If doormen are eligible, I wouldn't have a problem, but that's up to the people who live there."

A little gunplay would certainly liven things up. "The job can get boring," says an East Side super. "We really need help keeping guys awake."


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