Before nine o’clock on Saturday evening Victor Hade was watching TV in his Chelsea apartment when he heard a “terrific” noise. Hade, 81, says he knew exactly what it was.
His wife had been sleeping, but the sound woke her up. “Is that thunder,” she asked?
“It’s an explosion,” he told her. “Get dressed.”
Hade and his wife were just a few hundred yards away from the blast that injured 29 on Saturday and underscored once again the attempt to keep New York City safe from attacks, be they terrorist or terrorist-inspired, foreign or domestic.
Like many New Yorkers, Hade was familiar with the feeling of vulnerability that comes from living in a major city that has been a target for attack at least since 9/11. Hade himself was downtown that day, in City Hall Park, when the first tower went down.
So, he took the explosion seriously when it happened. But by Sunday afternoon, he was poised and philosophical about the event. “It’s all part of what life is like now,” he said. “You just have to live your life.”
This is how things are now
Part of that sense of resignation comes from recognizing the real threats to soft targets all around New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and new police Commissioner James O’Neill were careful not to jump to conclusions in the early hours after the event — was it terrorism? No matter who or what inspired the bomb, which was quickly determined to be “intentional,” the event demonstrates the difficulty of guarding against one-off threats.
O’Neill, in his first weekend in the suit and tie of a commissioner, reminded New Yorkers that the NYPD has helped foil 20 plots against the city.
Not all of those were equally potent threats, but the NYPD has organized its counterterror capabilities to powerfully combat organized, large-scale threats.
Getting to the disturbed individual, the depraved killer inspired by ideology, personal or professional grievances, is much more difficult.
It depends on the willingness of New Yorkers to come forward, on good relations fostered by the NYPD and an atmosphere where cooperation is encouraged. That allows the department to get real tips and not mostly noise. In terms of ISIS-inspired terror, the NYPD is still overcoming a legacy of surveillance that didn’t contribute to safety. Other cities with deeper radicalization problems than NYC have tried programs to close that gap.
Yet even here, the NYPD relies on advance warning that comes from a neighbor, a peer, a mentor or family-member. When that isn’t forthcoming, law enforcement is forced to be reactive.
Back to normal
And on Saturday, first responders reacted quickly and boldly as usual in circumstances like this.
Beth Galton says she was in the lobby of her apartment building when the explosion happened — she’d been watching previous commotion outside where FDNY was tending to a homeless man. But then there was an “eruption” down the street and everyone turned to look. The firefighters hopped back in their vehicle and headed to the scene.
The 29 injured were quickly released from the hospital, according to the mayor. Another unexploded device was found some blocks north. In another close call, a pipe bomb exploded in a charity race in New Jersey.
As the investigation unfolded, NYC returned to normal — New Yorkers typically shrugging off a sense of threat.
By Sunday, some streets may have been closed but people used them for walking and biking. Residents escorted by police moved in and out of the controlled zones, where investigations continued. Delivery workers carried pizzas from just down the street from the site to points distant, just as they had the day before.