Since late June, getting into City Hall has involved lining up at a desk at the northeast entrance, signing in and getting a paper badge. Long lines and citizen complaints often followed.

It was all part of a $6.5 million security upgrade first announced in late 2001. But when tighter building security finally began, nobody was routinely checking for weapons. Metal detectors and X-ray machines were only used on the fourth floor to gain access to City Council on hearing days.

Yesterday, a top Street administration official told Council members a new system is in the offing, one that should shorten lines by creating four entry points.

Under the new plan, the public will have to go through the security gauntlet of metal detectors and X-ray machines that are found in many public buildings in these post-9/11 days.

Instead of a sole entry point at the northeast entrance, visitors will walk to the City Hall courtyard and pass through one of four security checkpoints in the first-floor corridors if they want to get to the elevator banks and the building's upper floors.

Public Property Commissioner Joan Schlotterbeck said she was awaiting the green light from the Street administration to start the new access plan.

Schlotterbeck said police, emergency preparedness and Homeland Security experts advised the administration to upgrade the level of security for City Hall, while offering visitors a quicker way into the building.

Asked why the public will have unimpeded access to the first floor of City Hall, she said, "We felt that we have enough of a police presence down there."

Later in the day, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff held a news conference on the City Hall apron to tout a new government program, TRIPwire, which links federal, state and local bomb-prevention experts.

Chertoff said improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are "the weapon of choice for terrorists." His department's Office for Bombing Prevention is developing information on the latest terror bomb techniques and disseminating it through a special Web site to local officials. *