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NYC To Lower Memorial Ball

With Sept. 11 in mind, police and organizers of the New Year's Eve celebration braced for an expected half-million Times Square revelers ushering in 2002.

Organizers made several changes to the annual celebration to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, including a bell-ringing ceremony as the traditional crystal ball ascends to the top of its pole.

New Yorkers were invited to ring bells in their own homes, neighborhoods and churches, marking what is believed to be the first simultaneous bell-ringing in the city.

The Waterford crystal ball that drops each year will memorialize the victims of the attacks. The 504 triangular panels that cover the 1,070-pound ball are engraved with the names of each police precinct, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unit, firehouse, airline and nation that suffered losses on Sept. 11.

"New Year's Eve is a time when you look back," said Jeffrey Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, one of the event's organizers. "We wanted to look back and honor those who were lost."

Security for the event also reflected the new reality in the wake of the terrorist assault in lower Manhattan, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Parking before and after the celebration was to be prohibited from 34th Street to 59th Street between Sixth and Eighth avenues. Police with handheld metal detectors planned to check pedestrians as they entered the area through checkpoints.

Large bags were to be banned, and officers were instructed to inspect other items. Swarms of police - in uniform, in plainclothes, on rooftops and in helicopters - were to patrol the area.

The police department received no credible security threat regarding the Times Square event, according to Chief Allan Hoehl, commanding officer of the Manhattan South patrol borough.

Organizers on Sunday test-dropped the 6-foot-diameter ball down the flagpole on the roof of 1 Times Square and said everything seemed in order. Ball-drop officials flinched at the mere suggestion that it might be otherwise.

"It's not going to happen. Don't even say that," said Robert Esposito, acting president of the Times Square Business Improvement District. "If it did, a lot of people would be a few seconds late for everything all year, and we can't have that."

Esposito will stand near Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on a stage in central Times Square when the mayor pushes the button to start the drop.

Giuliani's instructions are "hands on at 11:58 and 45 seconds" and "push at 11:59." It takes one minute for the ball to descend the 77-foot pole and disappear behind the glittering "2002" sign.

Twenty-four stories below on the streets of Times Square, 500,000 revelers - about the same as last year - were expected to ring in the new year, as partygoers have done there since 1904. The first ball was dropped in 1907.

After Giuliani signals the drop and clocks turn to 2002, he will swear in Michael Bloomberg as the city'108th mayor.

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