Remember, last fall, only after much prodding by the New York Times, Forest City Ratner acknowledged that the arena would be just 20 feet from the street at Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, [corrected: closer than 25 feet] in Newark, where officials have decided to close streets during arena events.
The Times posed a question that lingers: What makes the Atlantic Yards arena sufficiently different from the Newark arena that it will not require street closings?
Setbacks too short
Alan Rosner, who wrote a July 2005 White Paper, titled Terrorism, Security and the Proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards. High Rise and Arena Development Project (PDF), has continued to follow the issue.
"The renderings for the new AY arena & towers do point to a lack of meaningful setbacks from both Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues," Rosner told me. "FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) the GSA [General Services Administration] & DoD [Department of Defense] all indicate that the single most effective mitigation for explosions is distance from the blast. By any standard 20 feet is too close to the curb."
According to the DoD's Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings (PDF), Table B-1 indicates that the minimum standoff distance for inhabited buildings is ten meters, or nearly 33 feet. The document states:
Where the minimum standoff distances detailed in these standards are met, most conventional construction techniques can be used with only marginal impact on the total construction or renovation cost.
While the standards set for DoD buildings may not seem to apply to arenas, consider that the DoD, according to the public-private organization The Infrastructure Security Project, produced this special public version of its standards for the expressed purpose of sharing non-sensitive infrastructure security knowledge for possible application to commercial buildings where the private sector finds them applicable.
Does metal help?
"In the old design Gehry used glass everywhere," Rosner added. "Considering that the majority of blast injuries can result from glass shrapnel, the move to metal might seem an improvement. Unfortunately that is not the case. Gehry's use of odd angles, dead spaces, hollows and overhangs means that should there ever be a car or truck bomb, the effects would be amplified. According to FEMA, reflected blast waves can be ten or more times as powerful as the initial explosive force."
See FEMA's Reference Manual to Mitigate Potential Terrorist Attacks Against Buildings, Chapter 4 (PDF). On p. 3, it says the ratio can be "almost 13 times greater."
New review needed?
Like other AY critics and opponents, Rosner argues that the design buttresses the call for a new environmental review: "This project is far different from the one that was approved in the days before Governor [George] Pataki left office. The Empire State Development Corporation avoided performing a blast study for the 'old' glass design. Given the failure of the current EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] to address post 9/11 security issues it is imperative to perform such a study and not leave issues of public safety in the hands of the architect and Forest City Ratner."
The lack of a security review in the EIS was raised in the lawsuit challenging the project's environmental review, which was dismissed by a trial court judge, and is under appeal, with oral argument scheduled for September.