Friday, July 08, 2005

Secret 'gas' test staged at Grand Central

Secret 'gas' test staged at Grand Central


The Federal Department of Homeland Security released gas in Grand Central Terminal last month in a secret study of how dangerous chemicals might flow through the landmark in a terrorist attack.

Nontoxic "tracer gases" were released into the terminal between June 26-30, as scientists from four national laboratories observed, including physicists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

"If there was some kind of emergency - smoke or who knows what - released in Grand Central Terminal, we want to know how it's going to move around and how best to evacuate it," Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. "Everybody knows that some kind of biological, chemical or radiological threat is something we have to plan for, and this is part of that planning."

The colorless, odorless gas was released at different times to determine, among other things, how the movement of people through the landmark building would affect the path of potentially harmful substances.

The information gathered from the tests was in part designed to improve emergency response planning for the terminal and provide data that could be used when assessing the security of other transportation hubs in the country. It also might be used to make protective alterations to the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system at Grand Central or lead to the use of technological devices under development, authorities said.

There are several devices in Grand Central that would detect the release of potentially deadly agents.

Approximately 750,000 people pass through Grand Central a day, including commuter rail riders, subway riders, shoppers and tourists.

Officials have long tagged Grand Central as a potential target because of its prominence as a landmark and the number of people who use it.

Police in March revealed that a simplistic drawing of Grand Central was found on the computer of a suspected Madrid train bomber, but officials described it as an amateur sketch and said they didn't believe it was part of a plan to launch an attack.