The first alert that John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, received about the terror attacks in Belgium came at 3:31 a.m. Tuesday when an aide at an overnight police watch desk roused him with a telephone call.
Over the next two hours, Miller and other high-ranking NYPD officials made quick decisions to ramp up security in the subway system and transportation hubs in time for the looming rush hour that was soon to be tested by millions of daily riders. They also decided to put extra security around Belgian and French interests.
The NYPD effort was part of a regional security response to the deadly bombings on Brussels’ public transport system and major airport. Numerous agencies, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority, dramatically increased security. National Guard soldiers were also patrolling.
The Transportation Security Administration said it is deploying more security at major U.S. airports and at key rail and transit stations nationally.
On Long Island, Nassau County police said they are intensifying patrols in all areas of mass transit and critical infrastructure, and will increase patrols at significant public events.
In Suffolk County, police said the “public should expect to see additional police presence in and around mass transit facilities.”
At the Valley Stream Long Island Rail Road station Tuesday morning, a pair of uniformed MTA police officers walked the platform, inspecting it from end to end. New York City Transit police patrolled subway stations with dogs, and heavily armed military personnel were visible throughout Penn Station.
At the LIRR’s customer concourse there, Roey Bender of Manhattan thanked a pair of troops, and said, “I feel New York City is the safest place to be right now.”
At a Manhattan symposium on the future of transportation hosted by Bloomberg LP, transportation officials assured the public that they were doing their best to protect travelers. John Degnan, chairman of the Port Authority, said the agency was at “highest state of alert.”
Because of the timing of the attack in Europe, the NYPD was able to effectively double the size of the newly formed Critical Response Command and Strategic Response Group by holding over the midnight-to-8 a.m. shifts of those heavily armed units. Police also added bomb-sniffing dogs, increased bag checks at subway stations and activated explosion detection devices.
“What you saw was the sum total of a couple of hours’ work which brought [together] hundreds of people, lots of equipment and special talent,” Miller told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who spends about 40 percent of his time dealing with terrorism, saw much security, including the National Guard and Strategic Response Group officers as he took the subway from Grand Central after a breakfast meeting. “I felt very secure,” Bratton said.
MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said his agency also coordinates closely with the NYPD, Joint Terrorism Task Force and other intelligence agencies and stepped up the presence of uniformed and “highly armed” police officers.
Both Bratton and Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI’s New York office, said authorities will be ramping up surveillance on terrorism suspects here.
Mayor Bill De Blasio, whose funding of 2,000 additional cops was credited by Bratton as giving the NYPD the ability to create the special units in action Tuesday, expressed solidarity with Belgium and said New Yorkers wouldn’t submit to fear.
“We refuse to change who we are,” de Blasio said.
Later Tuesday, de Blasio and Bratton, who reiterated there was no credible threat to the city, traveled to Times Square, where 50 new cops were stationed as part of a previously announced anti-crime initiative.
“It is so important for people go about their normal routines,” de Blasio said outside the Times Square subway station.
Bratton asked the public to thank his officers.
“Say hello to those cops, tell them you are grateful, thankful that they are there.”
With Alfonso A. Castillo