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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 6, 2011
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House Hearing Examines Transit Security

On May 4, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing titled “Securing Our Nation’s Mass Transit Systems Against a Terrorist Attack.” As noted by Chairman Peter T. King (R-NY), “a successful attack on a train or bus in one of our cities would not only injure or kill innocent passengers, but would also have devastating economic implications across the country. We need to examine and address the vulnerabilities that exist.”

He continued: “We must ensure that our highest-risk mass transit systems receive the funding and assistance they need from the federal government…Each day, millions of Americans rely on our nation’s mass transit systems, which present security challenges due to their many access points and minimal passenger screening.”

Richard L. Rodriguez, president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), testified how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recognized his organization’s results in a comprehensive security inspection program for public transit agencies. “Our system received high scores across all [17] BASE (Baseline Assessment for Security Enhancement) categories, which very few transit systems have achieved,” he said.

He reported on the security upgrades CTA has implemented with the help of DHS grants, such as high-resolution digital security cameras in all 144 of the system’s rail stations and, in the future, inside rail cars, and Transportation Security Administration resources including Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams and dogs from the Explosive Detection Canine Team Program.

Regarding the risk of attack facing public transportation systems, Rodriguez said: “In a free country, there is no such thing as a closed and perfect system. Transit systems across the country are inherently open environments designed to move people quickly to their destinations. It is a careful balance to strike between security and personal mobility—but we feel that we have found a good balance. We are determined to make our system as safe and user-friendly as possible, and to provide ready transportation consistent with the commitment to safety.”

Daniel O. Hartwig, deputy chief of police-operations with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Police Department, testified that BART completed four threat/vulnerability assessments with three government agencies and one private security firm soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and immediately invested capital funds to improve its security infrastructure.

“Today we continue to use Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) funds, as well as other local, state, and federal funds, to strategically and methodically eliminate identified vulnerabilities from the previously mentioned threat/vulnerability assessments,” he said.

John S. Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, and W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reported on their programs designed to secure and safeguard public transportation and passenger rail operations, including TSGP funds and VIPR teams.

“Determinations about where to locate resources are based on risk and various mass transit and passenger rail assessments. In all of our programs, we are committed to strengthening local and state efforts while working collaboratively with our private sector partners,” they stated in their joint testimony.

Also testifying at the hearing was Richard Daddario, deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, New York City Police Department.
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