Cambridge Discusses Terrorism Threat

Cambridge City Councillors discussed their concerns about city security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, at a roundtable discussion with Cambridge emergency department officials last night.

The councillors asked the local emergency planning committee about the possibility of biological or chemical contamination because of the large number of biotech no logy firms in the area.

“Because we have so many biotech [firms] coming in, we have gases and flammable materials,” said Capt. Lawrence Ferazani of the Cambridge Local Emergency Planning Committee, which inspects companies to ensure proper storage of possibly hazardous agents.

Officials also said they were continuously checking heating, ventilation and water systems to prevent the possibility of bioterrorism.

Councillor Kenneth Reeves asked City Manager Robert Healy if officials had identified specific areas in Cambridge that were more likely to be attacked.

“It’s not illogical that Harvard Square could be a target,” he said. “We’re now an epicenter of high tech, biotech and telecommunications [industries].”

Healy said the city had no information about any area that was at higher risk.

Police Commissioner Ronald Watson said two officers receive briefings a few times a week from the FBI’s New England terrorism task force, and the department had discussed coordination with both Harvard and MIT.

The Cambridge Hazardous Materials Team has responded to roughly 30 to 40 calls a day in the wake of the anthrax scares of the last few weeks, Healy said.

Cambridge is one of three Massachusetts cities with a stand alone hazardous materials team, and Fire Department Chief of Operations John O’Donoghue said the team responds to reports of suspicious packages within four minutes.

In an effort to quickly detect possible epidemics of anthrax or other infections, the city will soon join with Boston hospitals to exchange reports of suspicious symptoms, said Harold Cox, Cambridge’s Chief Public Health Officer.

Although officials said medical response teams were well-equipped to handle increased threats, Councillor Marjorie Decker urged the city to be more proactive in identifying city employees who may be suffering stress or emotional problems as a result of increased workload.

The police department has two officers who will counsel those who come forward for help, but they do not actively monitor employees for possible problems.

“Currently there aren’t any indications that there’s any kind of over activity,” Healy said. “We are cognizant of the concern.”

Mayor Anthony D. Galluccio said that Cambridge’s fiscal resources would allow it to hire more law enforcement or emergency officers if the need arose, although Healy said officials had been able to keep up with both normal crime calls and the additional calls that came after Sept. 11.

A number of councillors, however, complained that police details regulating traffic had been unfilled through events including the Oktoberfest and Head of the Charles.

“We had gridlock in the Square,” Galluccio said. “It’s very difficult to get emergency management through that.”

Watson said police have also made an effort to identify and communicate with residents most likely to be targeted for hate crimes.

Cambridge has received from 10 to 12 reports of possible hate crimes since Sept. 11, Watson said.