Most people in town for the Republican National Convention will never see it, or know that it’s considered crucial to their safety.
But tucked away in a windowless, eighth-floor room in lower Manhattan is a high-tech command center where authorities are directing a massive security effort aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks and other threats.
The Multi-Agency Command Center “really is the nerve center of operations for security at the convention,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told The Associated Press on Friday.
While several agencies have individual communications operations in and around Madison Square Garden, the Police Headquarters site is considered the central command center for the four-day event, Kelly said.
About 130 officers from 66 federal, state and local agencies will man the 2,000-square-foot command center 24-hours a day starting this weekend. It’s the largest contingent to work there since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We believe it’s very important because you have face-to-face communication there,” Kelly said. “Anything that comes up, you have all agencies there that could possibly be involved. ... It makes for instant coordination.”
On Friday, the brightly lit room already was staffed by the NYPD’s intelligence unit, Secret Service, FBI, National Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, state police, fire department, sanitation and other agencies. Officers and agents were wedged into seats at long tables equipped with laptop computers and telephones.
Video surveillance system key to operation
Some monitored a wall of nine closed-circuit video screens. The screens showed live overhead and street-level shots of the Garden, the Brooklyn Bridge and Union Square, where a large anti-war protest on Sunday is expected to conclude.
A bank of clocks gave times from across the country, as well as London, Tokyo and Baghdad. Six wall-mounted flat-screen televisions were tuned to national and local newscasts.
Over a loud speaker, a uniformed officer announced a report of a possible protest on Broadway near East 29th Street — information taken from computers that receive instant summaries of 911 calls.
Deputy Chief Harry Wedin, who helps run the operation, said it relies in part on a sophisticated video surveillance system hooked to more than 200 security cameras. The system allows officers to watch for possible criminal activity at major landmarks, tunnels and bridges, Times Square and other locations.
A computer allows them to split screens to show multiple angles of a busy street corner, or to zoom in close enough to see faces or suspicious packages. Some of the video comes from cameras mounted on police helicopters.
Officers can also tap into a variety of databases offering criminal histories of possible suspects and other intelligence. A backup generator ensures that the operation will survive a blackout or other power problems.
During a tour of the facility earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said it was a key to making sure the unprecedented level of security runs smoothly.