Security concerns after 9/11 fundamentally transform Fort Drum
September 9, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Threats to Fort Drum are not new. North Country natives know what lake-effect snowstorms and freezing rain will do to the best of drivers.
Interestingly enough, however, even in a post-9/11 world, one of the biggest threats currently facing Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division (LI) has not changed.
"Based on our past, the biggest threat to Fort Drum is our winters," said John Simard, Fort Drum antiterrorism officer.
He then explained that the overall threat to Fort Drum is best described as "asymmetrical," or irregular.
"We look at all threats," he said. "We look at criminal threats. We look at environmental threats. We look at cyber threats.
"You can't just look at a terrorist threat," he added. "The threat has many faces."
But all other dangers aside, and even though officials classify the terrorist threat here as "low," Fort Drum has seen major security changes take place since 9/11.
For the past 10 years, terrorism threats have become multifaceted, even evolving to some extent, Simard noted. Potential attacks that officials once thought might involve a hijacked plane now include the "lone wolf" scenario, such as the alleged self-radicalized mass shooter at Fort Hood -- Maj. Nidal Hasan.
Simard, who has been involved in antiterrorism for the past seven years, said he was a first sergeant attending a meeting at Division Artillery headquarters on Sept. 11, 2001. As an Army civilian two years after retiring from active duty, Simard got a taste for force protection at the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
Four years ago, he became the installation's first official antiterrorism officer.
He said despite lone-wolf scenarios, all threats to Fort Drum are assessed by law enforcement based on specific targets and objectives.
"Do you really think that al-Qaida will board a jetliner and crash it into the middle of Fort Drum? Is that plausible?" Simard asked. "Or is it more possible that a self-radicalized individual … (will) just decide to act on their own?
"Which one is more possible? And which one is more dangerous?"
Which one is more likely, combined with countless other factors, influences Fort Drum's force protection condition, or FPCON.
Simard said FPCON levels include Normal, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, and definitions range from a "general global threat of possible terrorist activity," or FPCON Normal, to a "terrorist action against a specific location or person is imminent," or FPCON Delta.
Immediately after 9/11, the installation jumped to FPCON Delta, according to Charles Childs, Fort Drum's physical security chief.
At Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, County Routes 29 and 37 were completely shut down, recalled Jim Corriveau, Public Works director. As officials evaluated and re-evaluated areas of risk on Fort Drum, construction projects were launched to boost security, including drop beam barriers at Hays Hall and increased vehicle-to-building distances for busy parking lots.
Officials also focused on the installation's access points.
Brian M. Appleby, Public Works' Master Planning Division chief, noted that new standards were implemented to replace or upgrade gates at Iraqi Freedom Drive, 45th Infantry Division Drive and Mount Belvedere Boulevard.
At the same time, construction began on the post's future gates at Gas Alley, Nash Boulevard and the airfield. All gate construction projects were completed by 2003, officially making Fort Drum a "controlled-access" installation.
Another security measure taken was in the design and construction of new buildings. Simard said the Army set strict rules on how buildings are engineered, based on the potential of explosive devices.
In recent years, force protection experts on post have partnered with Public Works to implement security standards on all new construction, including modular buildings. That means engineers select geographically suitable locations, install blast-resistant windows and doors, and design structures in a way that prevents the progressive collapsing of buildings with multiple levels.
Simard said keeping buildings at safe enough distances away from roadways and parking areas is an excellent and inexpensive way to implement force protection.
"Obviously, the farther away your facility is from a potential bomb, the less the blast is going to affect the building," he said. "We (want) to minimize the possibility that a vehicle could stop, park and detonate in place."
After 9/11, security around structures also became a focal point. Simard said officials barricaded or double-fenced facilities critical to Fort Drum's mission -- deploying Soldiers -- or that otherwise had a high potential for attack.
The installation's "barrier plan," a product of Fort Drum's Directorate of Emergency Services and part of the Installation Physical Security Plan, is also a critical procedure in place that protects the community based on FPCON levels.
"If in fact there is an increase in threat, we can execute that barrier plan across post as we need it," Simard said. "We can get to a point where 10th Mountain Division Drive is just completely closed."
Another major security-enhancing change was the post's mass notification system, or "Giant Voice." In addition to 22 outdoor towers across post, including the airfield, all new construction over the last several years in facilities considered inhabited contain built-in enunciators.
If quickly alerting the masses becomes necessary, Fort Drum emergency response officials have that recourse.
"We can put out any type of message, whether a manmade hazard or some kind of severe weather," said Bob Clark, the DPTMS operations technician who sits in an underground office where the Giant Voice is located.
Simard said he has great confidence in law enforcement and medical personnel in the community who work in tandem with the Antiterrorism Office in the event of an attack or threat.
"Our emergency response people here on Fort Drum are the best," he said. "They know what to do. We (also) have a great relationship with the community hospitals, which helps us immensely. We know their operational procedures and they know ours."
Although al-Qaida is still intent on attacking, Simard believes the new emerging threat of a lone wolf "self-radicalized" individual makes antiterrorism measures especially difficult for law enforcement.
"It used to be that terrorist (organizations) like al-Qaida, the Taliban, al-Shabaab … would start to chatter," he said. "Then guys at the FBI, who are expert at picking up all of that chatter, they can figure out what's going on.
"But the threat's kind of changed," he continued. "Now, you got the lone wolf and that internal threat, like (suspects Hasan and Pfc. Naser Abdo) in Killeen, Texas.
"Those guys don't chatter," he said. "They don't say anything."
Simard said large groups chatter because logistics, materials and communications require it. Individuals who act independently usually have everything they need or accumulate small items over time.
"They won't cause people to (take notice)," he said, lessening another line of defense for law enforcement -- community help.
Subsequently, Simard stressed how absolutely critical public awareness is to antiterrorism efforts worldwide.
"If you look at the Times Square bomber, he parked his car in a no-parking spot," he said. "So a vigilant store vendor saw that the vehicle was parked in the wrong place and had smoke coming out of it. He called the police.
"We hope that on Fort Drum, (community members) do the same thing," he said. "It's the neighbor. It's the employer. It's the people around that individual who maybe notice something. We really need the community to pick up on those indicators and to call our anonymous tip line at 774-TIPS (8477)."
Given the way 9/11 spawned many new threats in the U.S., Fort Drum continues implementing procedures to prepare for catastrophe.
Simard said annual force-protection exercises, like active-shooter scenarios, help officials calculate and plan for their emergency responses. Testing the Giant Voice twice a month also supplements response plans.
"What if the bad guy does get through (our defenses), and we need to alert the masses?" he said.
In addition, recent upgrades and security measures have been completed at Iraqi Freedom Drive, Nash Boulevard and Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. Appleby said the updates include new canopies, guard booths, additional lanes, emergency generators, automation prep and active vehicle barriers.
The same modernizations are under way at Mount Belvedere Boulevard -- tentatively scheduled to be completed this month. Updates are not yet scheduled to begin at the Gas Alley and 45th Infantry Division Drive gates.
But even with the many physical security plans and measures put in place since 9/11, Simard said the giant puzzle law enforcement officials actively seek to solve involves viable threats detected early by alert neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives.
"For the most part, the community is much more aware and much more apt to report (something) since 2001," Simard said. "If something seems out of the ordinary, people are reporting (it).