Living In A Target-Rich Environment, As The Times Square Car Bomb Reminds Us

Landsat 7 image of Manhattan on September 12, ...
Image via Wikipedia

I read the news last night at home, in the suburban apartment where I live — after spending the day in Manhattan.

Anyone who lives or works or plays, and many of us do all three, in Manhattan do so, since the attacks of 9/11, with the knowledge we are, certainly a delicious, tempting and obvious target for terrorism.

There are so many places a bomb blast would wreak tremendous havoc: Times Square, eerily emptied last night after a bomb scare; Grand Central Station, the commuter terminus for thousand of trains arriving daily from the northern suburbs of Connecticut and New York; Port Authority, and its bus commuters; Penn Station, the Amtrak hub and arrival point for commuters from Long Island.

Not to mention the trains themselves– as Spain discovered in March 2004 when terrorists attacked their trains (191 dead, 1841 injured) and the subways and buses within the city, as London learned on 8/8/2005.

According to Wikipedia:

New York City is distinguished from other cities in the United States by its significant use of public transportation. New York City has, by far, the highest rate of public transportation use of any American city, with 54.2% of workers commuting to work by this means in 2006.[4] About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation’s rail riders live in New York City or its suburbs.[5] New York is the only city in the United States where over half of all households do not own a car (Manhattan’s non-ownership is even higher – around 75%; nationally, the rate is 8%).[6]

… New York City also has the longest mean travel time for commuters (39 minutes) among major U.S. cities.[7 …Of all people who commute to work in New York City, 32% use the subway, 25% drive alone, 14% take the bus, 8% travel by commuter rail, 8% walk to work, 6% carpool, 1% use a taxi, 0.4% ride their bicycle to work, and 0.4% travel by ferry.[12] 54% of households in New York City do not own a car, and rely on public transportation.

I take the subway, of course, but don’t love knowing I am such a potential victim there; the bus is really, really slow and taxis expensive. Every day, my sweetie rides a commuter train (also a great target) into the city, then walks through many of these areas to reach his office. I worry every day.

He has been responsible and loving enough to make sure, God forbid anything does happen, I am financially protected in case of his death. Would we have taken these steps if we lived somewhere rural and bucolic — or Germany or Italy or Canada? I doubt few places are now free of terrorism or serious unrest.

I used to work at the Daily News, in a building that also houses the Associated Press — an absolutely essential element, still, of traditional, international mass news-gathering and dissemination — and a local television station.

I couldn’t decide if that made us a juicier target (attack those decadent lying reporters!) or whether it might spare us, since whoever attacked us would so badly want our shocked, outraged, 24/7 coverage.

Do people think like this in Salt Lake City or Tampa or Oakland or Seattle? Either one of the coastal Portlands?

We’ve discussed what we would do if it all happens again, which is why I know exactly where to find my passport and green card and a credit card with room on it for a fast airline purchase. That seems unlikely and unworkable, and lousy to leave my partner behind — although in his newspaper job they would need him.

We’ve talked about how or if one would flee this area…boat? canoe? kayak? car?…and figured it would all get apocalyptic and Mad-Maxish very, very quickly. A gun might well be necessary for self-protection. I see a nuclear power plant from my window, barely 10 miles north. Not a happy sight in these times.

Our county of one million people — including some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful, from David Rockefeller (who lives nearby and whose helicopter thuds over my balcony multiple times a day as he commutes to Manhattan) to Martha Stewart — has never practiced an evacuation plan. Too disruptive, they said.

Now, that’s intelligent planning.

I don’t live in a conscious pulse-quickening kind of fear. No one can walk around in that state for years.

But anyone who lives in or near Manhattan knows this constant white-noise sound in the back of our heads. Waiting for the next time.

11 thoughts on “Living In A Target-Rich Environment, As The Times Square Car Bomb Reminds Us

  1. leonkelly

    For what it’s worth: Even here in Middle America, the threat is real. Every day I drive past a nuclear power plant going to and from work. An elaborate maze of concrete barriers occupies a huge entrance area to thwart a potential truck bomb. Us locals fear an air borne assault the most. We don’t know, but we pray that plans have been made for that contingency.

    1. jake brodsky

      There are contingency plans for aircraft to crash in to the reactor containment vessel. There are even videos of aircraft being rammed at high speed in to a replica of a containment vessel wall. The wall remains intact.

      That said, there are other targets on the nuke plant that aren’t so well known. The danger is not immediate, but it could become a problem if action isn’t taken. I’m not an expert at these things, nor do I feel it would be appropriate to reveal what these things were even if I did know.

      The need for security has never gone away. Any concentrated form of energy is dangerous. Nuclear fuel is no different.

  2. jaxyn

    Last night I had gone out in the village and was going to change trains in Times Square. Instead, since the weather was so nice and I wasn’t tired, I got out and walked the rest of the way home. I turned on the computer only because I wanted to see if a certain man had written to me. Sigh, no. It’s was strange to see the news that there had been a car bomb in the area earlier that evening.

    When the first World Trade Center attack occurred, it was my mother who called to inform me of it. At the time I was oblivious to it in Chelsea.

    The Daily News Building is a wonderful building with its lobby and that great globe. Anyone visiting New York should stop by and look at it. It must have been a pleasure to walk into it every day. Its evocation of internationalism puts me in mind of Saarinen’s TWA building whose open spaces were sadly cut up by security devices the last time I saw it. A few years ago I was walking by the U.N. building and found myself feeling oddly nostalgic for the optimism of modernism.

    However, I never think of attacks unless someone reminds me of them. I suppose that’s why when I was a child I got teased with the phrase, “What, me worry?”

  3. Caitlin Kelly

    Leon, thanks for weighing in. Sorry to hear this, but it’s helpful to know others think this way…then the question is, what to do about it?

    jaxyn, the News moved out of that (lovely) building a long time ago; I did work there briefly, and the lobby was magical. Now it’s in a hideous, truly hideous thing on far west 33d., where the winds blow off the Hudson in winter like it’s Siberia. It is isolated and in a terrible neighborhood.

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    jake, what concerns me more — no, drives me nuts — is the unwillingness of every cooperating “authority”, whether marine/police/fire/EMT/county and state governments — to even PLAN how to handle the mass terror and confusion that is inevitable should a terrorist attack happen in my county. I bet this is very common everywhere. Just deny it until it’s too late.

    For example, we all have cellphones “in case.” They did not work on 9/11! Not for many many crucial hours. I did not know — until very late that afternoon, if my partner in NYC and in that area at that time (we expected, not true as it turned out) was alive or dead.

    If something REALLY bad happened tomorrow, and of course I pray it does not, where would you go? Your family? Your pets? Do you have plenty of cash ready should all ATMS fail or be emptied fast by others? What about your “go bag”?

    I bet very very few people have *no practical idea* how they would react or behave. I have no doubt that authorities would be totally overwhelmed and ugly chaos would reign.

    1. jake brodsky

      The problem in NYC was that there was a significant telecommunications hub beneath the WTC towers that failed when the buildings came down. There were also numerous radio transmitters and antenna systems on top of the towers.

      Basically, the common carrier providers failed to take this scenario in to account.

      There are many more such systems that nobody notices until they fail. Engineers usually do know what these systems are. However, there are so many of them that prioritizing who gets what monies for what projects is often beyond the abilities of local and state governments.

      Many of these systems are difficult to imagine and even more difficult to replace. For example, there are two rock tunnels through which most of New York city gets their water. Both are operating at capacity and a third one has been under construction for decades. If anything goes wrong with either of the first two, look out!

      I also don’t know how well New York has planned for the possibility of an earthquake. Many buildings were not built to the same standards as one finds on the West Coast. Yet, there is a fault line that goes straight through downtown Manhattan. Some day there will be an earthquake.

      Some agencies do practice this sort of thing, but the scenarios are too numerous and too confusing for most of the participants to deal with. There have been table top exercises where people from each segment of the critical infrastructures discuss how a given disaster would affect them.

      There are hundreds, if not thousands of possible disasters. I don’t know how well any society would deal with them all. I don’t mean to sound like a survivalist, but if you or your neighbors do not have the resources to manage without electricity, water, communications and transportation for somewhere between 48 to 72 hours or more, a disaster will be an expensive and dangerous problem for you.

  5. Caitlin Kelly

    Jake, I agree. We need to be more organized than we are at the moment in this respect. We have things like flashlights, radios and batteries but if you really get serious it needs to be much more than this.

    Joey, it’s a satellite image of Manhattan with the smoke plume from the 9/11 attacks after the towers fell.

  6. ebizjoey

    “Joey, it’s a satellite image of Manhattan with the smoke plume from the 9/11 attacks after the towers fell.”- Wow. glad I asked, thanks for answering!

  7. i met you on Saturday at the top of the Hotel PA… who would have thought that a bomb was in the making, so close to where we all were?
    When I heard the news of this, I thought, “This is why it’s so important that we have “Home” to go to… a place where we can be cradled after the smaller — and larger issues that swirl around us every day.
    As a former New Yorker, it always feels good to be back in town… but events like these shake even the steady faith of seasoned New Yorkers. As I said in our 2-minute conversation, we all need Comfort Living — especially now.
    I look forward to following up with you. Meanwhile, you can reach me at

  8. Caitlin Kelly

    Christine, I also came home feeling a little shaken. As I said in my post, no one can freak out every day all day, but anyone who lives here wonders when it will happen next. Every time I pass through Grand Central Station there are Army guy with guns and sniffer dogs. The city has definitely changed.

    joey, I bet every New Yorker knew that image. It’s one we’d love to forget. I first saw the smoky ruins about 3 days after 9/11 as I drove north from MD on I-95 and knew, as I did at 65 mph, I’d burst into tears when I saw it. Terrifying. Then followed by weeks if not months of the terrible, sour smell that wafted from the site for miles.

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