Mass Transit Jam
When the infrastructure and operation of mass transit systems are threatened or attacked, as they were twice in London during July, the desired effect is to disrupt commerce, instill fear and bring a bustling, thriving region to a grinding halt. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security recently held hearings to make sure U.S. transit systems are prepared for similar attacks.
Unfortunately, the London incidents are only the latest in a series of major attacks on the world’s transit systems. In 1995, Tokyo subway riders were targeted in a deadly nerve gas attack that killed 12 and injured almost 5,000 more. Eight people died and more than 200 were injured when a terrorist detonated a bomb on the Paris Metro in 1995. The past two years have seen four major world transit attacks: Moscow and Madrid in 2004, and the London bombings.
Every workday, transit and commuter rail systems move more than 14 million passengers in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). “The very characteristics of public transit systems that make them convenient and reliable also make providing effective security an ongoing challenge,” says Robert Jamison, deputy administrator of the DOT’s Federal Transit Administration.
Although passenger screening devices similar to those used at airports have been successfully tested at locations with limited access points and relatively few passengers, the widespread application of current passenger screening devices on mass transit — even on heavy rail — is unrealistic.
“During peak periods in New York’s Penn Station, for example, more than 1,500 people per minute would have to be screened to maintain current levels of mobility and access,” Jamison says.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has awarded more than $250 million in grants targeted to transit security. Under the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP), the DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) has awarded more than $251 million over the past three years to transit systems for security enhancements.
“The overarching goal of [TSGP] is to create a sustainable, risk-based effort to protect regional transit systems and the commuting public from terrorism, especially explosives and non-conventional threats,” says Tim Beres, director of the preparedness programs division of the ODP. “A major focus of the TSGP is to address transportation security in a systematic, risk-based manner.”
In assessing security preparedness, the committee surveyed the directors of several major transit systems, including those in Washington D.C., New York and Los Angeles.
The New York State Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) provides more than 8 million subway, rail and bus rides each day, which includes 8,577 subway and commuter rail cars and more than 6,000 buses.
“In addition to performing emergency drills, all key employees are provided ongoing formal ‘eyes and ears’ training; fire protection and evacuation training; and Dupont Safety training,” says William Morange, director of security for the New York MTA. “To date, 45,000 employees have been through these courses, and personnel are rotated through that training on a regular basis.”
Similarly, Los Angeles’s MTA has implemented extensive safety and security training. The program includes conducting major inter-agency, threat-focused security exercises.
“Our training regimen includes both table-top and very realistic, on-ground, simulations and exercises,” says Paul Lennon, director of intelligence and emergency management for the Los Angeles MTA.