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Pa. offers Wall Street a disaster backup

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Pennsylvania is trying to persuade the nation's top financial services companies to establish backup operations in the state so that markets can recover quickly in the event of another terrorist strike on New York.

Governor Ed Rendell has pledged more than $30 million to Wall Street West, an initiative to build millions of square feet of office space, improve infrastructure, and install hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable in as many as nine Pennsylvania counties.

Executives from more than 20 leading Wall Street firms are scheduled to take a 30-minute helicopter ride from Manhattan to the Pocono Mountains tomorrow to listen to the state's sales pitch, and there are indications that at least one company is about to pull the trigger.

``I think we're so close today that maybe the trigger is already pulled and the first shot is being fired," said state Representative John Siptroth, Democrat of Monroe and a prime backer of the Wall Street West concept.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government recommended that financial services companies establish backup sites and devise business-continuity plans to safeguard their operations against terrorists, with the goal of being able to resume processing financial transactions as early as two hours after an attack.

Boosters say that northeastern Pennsylvania, some 80 miles west of New York, can help companies meet that goal. The region is far enough away that it would not be affected by an attack, but close enough to allow for real-time transmission of data over fiber-optic lines, a critical requirement of the financial sector.

The counties involved in the Wall Street West program were chosen because they could potentially be reached by 125 miles of fiber, the distance at which data transmission becomes less than instantaneous. The counties are Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Monroe, Carbon, Pike, Wayne, Luzerne and Lackawanna.

The region also is served by a different power grid, transportation network, and watershed than New York, as called for in guidelines issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

US Representative Paul Kanjorski, Democrat of Pennsylvania and a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said that while the financial sector has taken many steps to protect itself, more can be done.

``Your electrical system can go down; your water supply can be poisoned; your transportation system can be disrupted," he said.

The first of the Wall Street West projects, the 300,000-square-foot Penn Regional Business Center in Monroe County, is scheduled to break ground in June.

The developer, Larry Simon, plans to build nearly 5 million square feet of office space that is tailored to the needs of financial services companies.

``We can't control the disaster, but we sure . . . can control the recovery," he said. ``We're talking about the preservation of Mom and Dad's 401(k) plan and Johnny's college fund."

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