Marie Poveromo never thought much about security at the five
power plants near her home in Astoria Heights, Queens.
Instead, she focused on things like whether the tiny particles
coming out of the plants caused cancer and made people sick.
That was, until Sept. 11. That is when the nightmares with
the plane crashing into a plant, or a truck bomb going off,
"I have been worried about security because of the power
plants ever since the attacks," Ms. Poveromo said recently
from her home on 81st Street, which is near several other
plants that, combined, generate half the electrical power in
New York City. Her fears were calmed, she said, a few days
after the attacks, when the city sent orange Sanitation
Department trucks packed with sand to the plants and extra
patrol officers to the streets.
Now, however, as the Police Department and other agencies
get back to business as usual, the sand trucks and officers
are gone. And Ms. Poveromo's nightmares have returned.
"Things have become quiet, and now all of a sudden security
is on the back burner," said Ms. Poveromo, a real estate agent
who is also the president of an Astoria neighborhood group,
the United Community Civic Association.
As attention has focused on the safety of places like
Indian Point, a nuclear plant in Westchester County, people
like Ms. Poveromo who live near electric power plants,
transmission lines and substations have become increasingly
frustrated by what they consider a lack of adequate security.
Some estimate that an attack at a large power plant could
set a small neighborhood ablaze by igniting a chain of
This has been of great concern to government officials like
James K. Kallstrom, who stepped down this week as the director
of the New York State Office of Public Security, which was
created after Sept. 11.
"Quite frankly, there is nothing that is more of a national
security asset than the power grid," said Mr. Kallstrom, who
remains an unpaid adviser to the office, now led by John
Scanlon, a former chief of patrol for the New York Police
The debate is over not only whether more oversight of power
plants is needed, but also over who should pay for it. Power
companies say that they have done their best to improve
security after the attack, and that if anything is needed from
state agencies it is financial assistance, not oversight. The
companies also worry that state laws might allow the public
release of information, like maps of transmission lines.
Edison officials say they are working closely with the
police on security precautions.
In Queens, Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Democrat and
a resident of Astoria, said he was alarmed by the fact that
unlike Indian Point, where security is monitored by the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, other power facilities are not
monitored by government agencies. He has introduced
legislation to give the state public security office
responsibility for overseeing plants, substations and
He said he did not want security to get pushed to the side
because of budget problems, particularly since the F.B.I. has
issued alerts since Sept. 11 warning that power plants were
being targeted by terrorists.
"In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the government
stepped in — you had the N.Y.P.D. cops and the National Guard,
and there was an immediate mobilization," Mr. Gianaris said.
"But as we move into the long term, you can see those things
are not there, and it is just not possible for the state or
the city to manage the ongoing costs."
Shortly after he took office in January, the police
commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, created two new positions — a
deputy commissioner for intelligence and a deputy commissioner
Police officials say the men in those posts have been
working on securing power networks. But they added that there
were more than 1,000 potential power-related targets in the
city, from Con Edison's power plant on East 14th Street in
Manhattan to a KeySpan
Energy plant in Far Rockaway, Queens.
Inspector Michael Collins, a Police Department spokesman,
would not comment on specific plans. "The department initially
responded and provided extensive resources for covering these
sites," he said. "We have met with operators of many of the
sites that were covered after 9/11 and we have taken some
steps to increase security at them."
Power companies and the New York Power Authority, which
also runs plants, have said they have made many improvements.
"We have looked at our security and made changes that have
improved it," said Jack Murphy, a Power Authority spokesman.
"We have determined we are not going to talk about what the
improvements are or quantify them, because that would play
into the hands of anyone looking to do harm."
The sprawling nature of power distribution makes regulating
security hard. Connecticut Light and Power Company operates
3,100 miles of transmission lines and 530 substations to serve
1.1 million customers.
"We are working with industry groups, federal, state and
local officials to determine the appropriate level of
preparedness," said Chris Riley, a company spokesman.
Andrea Staub, a spokeswoman for KeySpan, which operates
plants and other facilities on Long Island and in Queens,
said, "What I can tell you is that the attack did open our
eyes to make sure that all our facilities were covered as soon
as they could be."
Despite the assurances, Ms. Poveromo said she noticed a
lack of security. She says she hopes that Mr. Gianaris's bill
As for the other power plants in her neighborhood and plans
for several new ones, she says her opposition has only grown.
"If they want to build more power plants, let them build them
in Manhattan," she said. "Or let them build them in the area
of Albany where most of our legislators who make our decisions