Homeland Security To Focus On Chemical Plants, Hackers

BETH DeFALCO Associated Press Writer - September 11, 2009 JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) - Eight years after the Sept.

BETH DeFALCO Associated Press Writer — September 11, 2009

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the government is relying more on technology to thwart potential terrorism and trying to better prepare for the threat of cyberterrorism — one of the country's "real vulnerabilities," U.S. Homeland Security Undersecretary Rand Beers said Wednesday.

He said hackers, from common criminals looking to steal intellectual property to other nations looking for state secrets or counterintelligence "could represent real vulnerabilities should we be in a state of war."

Beers joined more than 400 law enforcement and emergency management officials who gathered Wednesday in Jersey City near the Statue of Liberty for a conference on homeland security, and to specifically discuss issues facing urban areas in New Jersey — the country's most densely populated state.

He said law enforcement also has begun to determine ways to protect highly sensitive facilities, such as chemical plants, by studying their surroundings and the way supplies and inventory move to and from them.

"Each of these sites don't exist in a vacuum. It's sort of the second stage, the maturation of homeland security starting with the sites and moving more broadly into regions," he said.

Beer noted that two of the department's five pilot security projects are in New Jersey; one along Exit 14 on the Turnpike, where chemical plants are located, and the other focusing on tunnels that connect New Jersey and New York City.

He said such places are "areas to focus on regional resilience so we have a better idea of the region and how we protect it rather than individual sites."

While working to thwart technological threats, local agencies also are using new technology to better communicate and spot trends.

"It's not uncommon for the officer on the street to be the first to come in contact with potential terrorists or someone who could do harm to all of us. So it is critical we be mindful of the overlap between our work," state Attorney General Anne Milgram told the group.

To that end, Milgram said there are several state initiatives under way to better connect officers on the street, and the information they obtain, to state and federal agencies.

She said that by the end of the year, New Jersey will become the first state to have digitized fingerprint database systems in every town and city police department. The state also is working toward creating a network of electronic license-plate readers that would allow better tracking of suspicious vehicles.

And police already are using a new database that allows them to search through police reports statewide almost immediately after the reports are taken. There are more than 1.1 million police reports in the database so far.