By Jodi Prill, Associate Editor
PANYNJ faces challenges of rebuilding; turns to technology for security
NEW YORK - On September 11, 2001, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey lost 75 employees in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, including executive director Neil Levin. Today, employees are still dealing with the effects of the tragedy - some have yet to return to work. For the aviation department, those who have returned to work have been relocated four times since the attacks and are focused on rebuilding the division and securing the airports.
"Our daily working experience is different," says Jeanne Olivier, senior manager, operations, maintenance, and security planning. "Virtually every desk has photos of colleagues killed."
The rebuilding process began immediately for the Port Authority. "We made payroll that Friday," Alan Reiss, deputy director of the aviation department, and former director of the World Trade Center (WTC) says. "A paycheck was everybody’s last thought – everybody was astounded."
"We had copies of everything in a safe on the 67th floor. It was protected from fire, but we never thought it would come crashing down and be destroyed."
- Alan Reiss, PANYNJ
Reiss was among those who spent that Friday addressing UPS envelopes to each employee to ensure that he or she would receive a paycheck.
Operations resumed almost immediately for the Port Authority. Reiss says that the terrorist bombing of 1993 proved to be somewhat of a "dry run" for last year’s events and had prepared many employees for working in a disaster.
"Our business manager had the foresight to grab the business resumption plan as he ran out of the building. A lot of stuff stopped, but all the contingency plans kicked in," Reiss says.
Luckily, the PANYNJ computers were up and operating fairly quickly as well, within 72 hours.
"The staff rose to the occasion," Reiss says.
Reiss offers the example that the director at JFK closed the airport before the FAA closed all others – immediately going into an inclement weather plan.
Olivier explains, "Most people had read that many Port Authority facilities were identified by terrorists. Immedi-ately, we had an organization for each office scattered throughout the area. We had a workforce both shocked and grieving, but mobilized for alert because there were still threats."
Rebuilding hasn’t just meant new office facilities for the Port Authority. In many ways, they must recreate the department. "We lost all our files," Reiss says. "We had copies of everything in a safe on the 67th floor. It was protected from fire, but we never thought it would come crashing down and be destroyed."
Leases with independent companies were lost; employee personnel records, letters of praise, documents for lawsuits with contractors and tenants were gone. The Port Authority then had to turn to others to, hopefully, recover what they could.
"In many ways, New York became a little town," Reiss says. Whatever the Port Authority needed, there were countless people and organizations ready to give. "People wanted to help, that’s what allowed the rebuilding."
Following 9/11 and the destruction of the WTC, Reiss says some of his staff became "mobile." One worker had his papers in a gym bag he carried around in his car. There have been 16 issues of the staff directory since 9/11, so the Port Authority began publishing cell phone numbers of its employees so everyone could be reached, no matter where new office facilities might take them.
Reiss says he used to back things up on his computer fairly regularly. Now, he backs it up every morning.
The Port Authority has created a new office of Emergency Management to focus specifically on recovery if a tragedy befalls the PANYNJ again. Olivier says Port Authority police are being trained to deal with weapons of mass destruction. "There has always been a police presence at each facility," Olivier says. "Since 9/11, we’ve beefed that up."
TESTING NEW TECHNOLOGIES
The Port Authority has been reaching out to the business community for new technologies capable of offering enhanced security. It has also made itself available to the government and researchers as a "test bed" for new technologies.
Some of these include surveillance technology and user authentication involving biometrics, such as finger and iris scanning. Terminal 4 at JFK is currently testing an iris scanning device for user identification of employees.
Video surveillance technology is another area being explored. Olivier explains one of the applications for this would be license plate recognition in secure areas, such as the ramp.
"Rather than just complain, we’re trying to come up with solutions. We decided to lead – we have an obligation to lead, " Olivier says "We’ve always had a program of responsibility at our airports, now it’s even more enhanced."In 2001, the airports (JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark) combined generated some $93 million, which is down some 17 percent from 2000.
The Port Authority is also looking into programs that train passengers to be more alert and aware. Private companies have presented these programs to the Port Authority and both Reiss and Olivier agree they are worth exploring.
"In this different world, passengers recognize their responsibility for their mutual safety and security, and of the people beyond that plane," Oliver says.
"No one is going to just sit on a plane anymore," Reiss adds. "These programs are trying to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do [in a threatening situation] – kind of a ’fly smart.’"
Olivier suggests the TSA step in to offer guidance to the public on "how it can prepare itself to be more vigilant, what things it should look for.
"We’re seeing that the public wants to know how they should respond, prepare – what assistance is reasonable, practical."
The Port Authority plans to look into several advancing technologies and tools, but Olivier is also quick to point out, "the greatest tool that has ever been demonstrated is the human factor. By in large, these things have been detected when somebody notices something."
The aviation department has been in its current Park Avenue offices since June. PANYNJ public information officer Pasquale DiFulco says the accommodations are only partially permanent.
"The Port Authority has pledged to be among the first to move back downtown when there is something to move back into. The Port Authority was clearly a vital part of downtown, having owned the World Trade Center, and having just leased it prior to September 11."
DiFulco says travel at the airports is coming back, but slowly. In 2001, the airports (John F. Kennedy Int’l, LaGuardia Int’l, and the newly renamed Newark Liberty Int’l) combined generated some $93 million, which is down some 17 percent from 2000. The aviation department is currently in the thick of redevelopment, according to DiFulco. Plans call for some $15 billion to be invested into the three airports. Improvements at JFK will consume some $10.3 billion of that, while EWR will see some $3.8 billion.
"You don’t invest in something unless you believe in it," DiFulco says. "Yes, the numbers are down, but they have been recovering, albeit slowly. We’re confident they will return, and every forecast shows we will continue to see increases, and clearly we need to be prepared for that. We need to prepare our facilities to be as efficient as possible, always keeping an eye and priority on safety and security.
"From a personal standpoint, we’ll always be rebuilding. With what the people in this agency went through and the resiliency they’ve shown, it’s remarkable. You have colleagues of mine who got out of the building 11 minutes before it collapsed, people who showed up covered in dust and went right to work. It’s an experience that I know people will carry around for a long, long time.
"It’s a family atmosphere here. On an absolutely human level, that’s what’s helped the rebuilding. It’s been a difficult time for a lot of people. To be able to put aside the grief of losing someone who may have been sitting ten feet away from you the day before, and go back to work."
The Port Authority has offered counseling services, both through the agency and privately for employees who might need the additional support.