Securing manhole covers

August 8, 2008 3:50:51 PM PDT
Below manhole covers exists the lifeline of New York City. From the electrical cables that feed Wall Street's data bases and computers, to the transmission lines that power Manhattan's offices, condos and subways. The manholes are portals to the city's critical underground infrastructure.

"There is so much communication, so much technology, it is essential we have a good number of those manholes locked," Rep. Peter King said.

Our investigation has found that nearly seven years after 9/11, few manholes have been secured.

Most of Con Ed's 250-thousand manhole covers remain unmonitored and unlocked. The same is true with the city's DEP manholes.

Anyone with a simple crowbar can still gain access to what's underground, even though five years ago the Department of Homeland Security released a reference manual on how to mitigate potential terrorist attacks against buildings. The manual recommends "manhole covers 10 inches or more in diameter should be secured to prevent unauthorized opening."

"Any wanna-be terrorist, any vandal can just lift the cover and cause significant damage to any of the infrastructure or assets that are in the manhole," said Mike Manoussos of Manhole Barrier Security Systems.

Manoussos' company has a durable, easy-to-install locking device that is currently in use by energy plants, prisons, ports and cable and telecom industries.

"Clearly, no one is getting in there. Can't budge it. Doesn't even move," he said as he showed how it works.

About 200 of the locking devices have been installed in manholes surrounding the New York Stock Exchange. They cost about $500 dollars each.

"You're literally talking about dollars to protect against millions and millions of potential loss," Manoussos said.

There are numerous other companies that offer these manhole security devices.

Most of them lock and unlock with a special wrench. None of them is being used by Con Ed, even though underneath some of its manholes exist critical infrastructure.

A Con Ed spokesman said they don't see the need for locking devices because most of its manholes weigh 300 pounds and are not easily opened without special tools. Regular inspections, the company said, ensures its equipment is safe, but pressure is building for Con Ed and other utilities to better protect what's underground.

A bill introduced just weeks ago would require manhole locking devices in the city to secure critical underground infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Congressman King is pushing for funding to do what some utilities have failed to do.

"We should have state and NYPD find key infrastructure and lock those manholes," he said.

Con Ed says it will review the legislation calling for locked manholes. We should note that the NYPD, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Office of Emergency Management declined to comment on this story.

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