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Water Supply Worries

In two of the nation's most populous areas, the weekend brought water supply worries. Authorities in Orlando, Fla. were investigating an unspecified threat to the city's water system as a separate report said New York City's water supply is not well-protected.

Officials characterized the Orlando threat as vague and unsubstantiated, but said it was being taken seriously. Orlando, home to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando, is a tourist destination for millions.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, state officials have worried that the city's international profile might invite an attack. The FBI would not comment on the nature of the threat or how the bureau learned of it. A spokesman said the water supply had been tested Sunday and revealed no evidence of tampering. There are approximately 30 water facilities in Orange County, serving more than 1.7 million customers.

Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary said security has been beefed up around several South Florida water facilities.

Meanwhile, a report in New York City that says water facilities are potentially vulnerable to biological or chemical attacks because security falls considerably short of federal and state guidelines has lawmakers troubled.

The findings, released Sunday, detailed several gaps in security at facilities within New York City's water system, which serves 9 million people.

Fences were vulnerable to intruders, buildings could be accessed with little resistance and detailed maps could easily be gathered.

"I'm not trying to be an alarmist, I'm not trying to create fear. I'm simply saying that something as important as the security of our water system has to be handled in a very, very careful manner," said Assemblyman Jeff Klein, chairman of the New York State Assembly Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation.

The report compiled by the panel found that security at the facilities failed more than half of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health guidelines.

The committee's findings were based on several months of analysis using a 21-point security checklist at eight water facilities within the region. The report detailed what was found at the five facilities in the city, but did not disclose their specific locations.

The list included checking windows, doors, fencing and site construction. A general category examined such things as whether restricted access signs were clearly posted with phone numbers, so that suspicious activity could be reported.

"Unfortunately, what we found was very startling," Klein said.

Not one facility was in complete compliance with federal standards regarding fencing, the report said. In some cases, fences had holes or gates were unlocked.

At some sites, doors were found with hinges on the outside, where determined vandals with hammers and screwdrivers could remove them.

Perhaps most alarming, Klein said, was the ease with which information about the facilities, including detailed maps, could be gathered from public records and on the Internet.

Charles Sturcken, chief of staff of the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the water supply, said the agency has been working with federal and local experts since 1998 to improve security.

"We have strengthened our police forces and are spending $35 million on improving security systems for the water supply and will continue to do so," he said. "In fact the federal EPA has told us we are years ahead of other municipal water systems."

Sturcken said he could not comment on the specifics of the report, because the locations of the facilities were not disclosed, and because a detailed copy had not been delivered to the agency.

The report recommends the city make several changes, including supporting neighborhood watch groups to monitor activity around facilities. The report also suggests the city ask Web operators to remove sensitive information.

A call to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office was not immediately returned Sunday, but Ed Skyler, a spokesman for the mayor, said Saturday that the city department of environmental protection takes "every conceivable precaution" to protect the water supply.

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