September 11: a comparatively new date that will also live in infamy. Before the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, the Pentagon, and western Pennsylvania, the public transportation industry already had a broad range of security programs and activities in place. But the 9/11 attacks—and subsequent ones on public transit systems around the world—led to an enormous partnership effort by the industry, APTA, and the federal government to put additional tools and resources into place that would strengthen the security of the public transit services provided.
But implementing security measures while still maintaining an open infrastructure presents an ongoing challenge. Unlike aviation, for instance, public transit must continuously move large numbers of people over short distances in an urban environment. Just consider that New York’s Penn Station handles the same number of people during a morning peak period that Chicago O’Hare International Airport handles in two and one-half days.
Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), like many agencies, has developed a “continuity of operations” plan. “This plan ensures if one of our critical systems or piece of infrastructure is impacted by terrorist or other threats, we have plans in place to ensure continual operations to serve our customers,” said Director of Security Initiatives Randy Clarke.
In addition, many resources are available nationally, including the Public Transit Information Sharing Analysis Center (ISAC) managed by APTA; APTA’s security standards, including standards on infrastructure security, security risk management, emergency management, and cyber security; National Transit Institute training courses such as “Security Awareness Training for Front Line Transit Employees”; and research reports published through the Transportation Research Board, including “Use of Dogs in a Transit Environment,” “Emergency Response Mobilization Strategies,” and “Legal Jurisdiction for Conducting Searches of Customers in a Transit Environment.”
So, what have public transit systems done in these past 10 years?
In general, they have markedly increased customer awareness through a variety of public information campaigns; “hardened” physical structures to make them more secure and better able to withstand explosive devices; initiated protection against cyber security hacking; introduced new levels of technology; and dramatically increased policing programs, department size, and training for all employees. Further, agencies continue to conduct drills to test the capabilities of their personnel, procedures, and technologies.
What follows is just a snapshot of efforts taken nationwide by the public transportation industry in the last decade.
Public Information Campaigns
Nine years ago, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) developed its now award-winning “See Something, Say Something” campaign—since emulated around the country and the world and introduced last July by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano as the department’s campaign.
“We know that our customers are the first line of defense,” said MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay H. Walder, “and have worked to sharpen their awareness for security.” This campaign will continue to appear on television and in print throughout 2011 and 2012.
Across the country, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) in Oakland, CA, implemented its “Eyes and Ears” poster campaign—which draws on the “See Something, Say Something” effort. New BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey’s community-oriented policing philosophy encourages all the people who work for the agency, ride the trains, or in any way benefit from BART to participate because helping keep the system secure is in their best interest.
“We’re living in a different world than 10 years ago,” said Rainey. “Whether you’re paid to help run the trains or you pay to ride them, we are trying to create a culture amongst BART staff and our riders that the job of keeping the system safe and secure can’t be done by our officers alone—it’s now everyone's business.”
“The key is, we really rely on the public to work collaboratively with us,” said Marc Littman, spokesperson for Los Angeles Metro. “We’re really pushing the ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign. We’ve made a lot of improvements and we continue to enhance security, but it’s a collaborative effort: the critical component is the public’s cooperation.”
In Boston, MBTA places a heavy focus on its “See Something, Say Something” effort but, according to Clarke, the next phase will concentrate on the latter part of the campaign, encouraging more people to talk to MBTA employees.
This campaign is aimed at the riding public. On the other hand, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) developed an internal program for its employees, “Not on My Shift.”
"Our employees are our first line of defense, so we are telling them: be aware of your surroundings, be diligent, and take pride in the fact that nothing will happen on your shift,” said Wanda Dunham, MARTA assistant general manager for police services and emergency management.
Strengthening Infrastructure and Technology
In the jargon of security, “hardening” means “strengthening”—whether it’s physical hardening, such as New York MTA spending hundreds of millions of dollars hardening its tunnels, bridges, and other infrastructure, or MARTA and MBTA raising the height of their fences, or technological hardening, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) implementing a chemical, biological, and radiological detection process whose goal is to mitigate the consequences of a release of an agent into the Metrorail system. That process consists of a combination of sensors within rail stations plus hand-held portable detectors carried by all transit police officers.
According to chief spokesperson Dan Stessel, WMATA is the first public transit agency in the U.S. to equip every member of its police force with the detector—roughly the size of a pager.
MARTA has instituted THOR or Target Hardening Operation Response, coordinated through DHS. This term refers to unannounced and unexpected sweeps at stations with MARTA officers and those from other jurisdictions, with canines, through railcars and buses—to talk to people. “It’s a ‘shock and awe’ show of force,” said agency spokesperson Lyle V. Harris.
With the possible exception of the exponential number of transit police hired, the biggest expansion in systems across the country seems to be camera systems and closed-circuit television (CCTV). Los Angeles Metro installed surveillance cameras on its entire bus and rail fleet, rail stations, and other facilities—and most of these are state-of-the-art, pan-tile-and-zoom cameras.
Partnering with the New York Police Department, MTA integrated its efforts to place surveillance cameras at three key transit hubs: Penn Station, Grand Central Station, and Times Square. More than 507 cameras are already online and connected to NYPD’s Command Center. Together with the 900 fare control cameras added throughout the system, MTA now has more than 3,700 cameras online and operational, helping to protect the subways, and several hundred more on the commuter rails and bridges.
WMATA expanded its CCTV deployment, which included installing cameras at each of the 153 station entrances in addition to a comprehensive network of cameras within the system itself.
MBTA also enlarged its CCTV coverage by well over 50 percent. “MBTA has significantly increased physical security systems throughout the transit system to ensure a more robust situational awareness for transit police and the operators control center,” said Clarke.
Taking advantage of the digital age, BART has begun standardizing and digitizing its camera system, with the aim of uniformity.
MARTA’s Live View CCTV program lets agency employees view any rail station at any time. “Before 2008,” said Dunham, “we had about 600 antiquated black-and-white technology cameras. We now have over 1,200 color, state-of-the-art [cameras], and plan to expand our CCTV coverage to 2,000.”
While cameras are still inanimate objects, their latest capability may have some people wondering if they aren’t somewhat human. Through video analytics, they have the capability of alerting personnel to suspicious packages or people. A light will blink and an alarm will sound—one that increases in volume until an official responds. “Its intrusion detection capacity will determine immediately if someone unauthorized is in a secure area,” said Dunham, “so we’re excited about that technology.”
“A lot has been done in the past 10 years in Los Angeles County to enhance safety on buses and trains and in our facilities,” said Los Angeles Metro Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy. “From installing sophisticated surveillance cameras in our rail stations to deploying canine bomb-sniffing dogs and other measures, it’s definitely safer.”
Many systems have created specialized teams or departments that focus solely on security. In 2009, WMATA added a 20-member anti-terror team devoted to disrupting or deterring a terrorist attack within the Metrorail system. The team conducts surveillance, performs frequent security sweeps of tunnels and stations, increases the visibility of the force, and monitors intelligence, working with law enforcement partners at both federal and state levels.
The Washington system also added an Office of Emergency Management in 2008 that focuses on emergency planning and preparedness, responding to incidents and participating in recovery and mitigation activities. This office works in conjunction with emergency responders throughout the national capital region, providing training for first responders on how to respond to an incident on the Metro system.
Another specialized WMATA team concentrates on explosive ordnance detection team, responding to suspicious packages or bomb threats. Its tools include a bomb robot and portable X-ray machines as well as canines. Also, a Metrobus enforcement division includes 20 officers with responsibility for patrolling bus garages and bus routes in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. In addition to their routine patrol activities, they conduct terrorism awareness training classes for bus personnel.
In the San Francisco Bay area, BART created the On Duty Watch Commander, so a single person is responsible around the clock (in shifts) to report and track security-related information. The people in that position inform the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. BART also developed Critical Asset Patrol Teams, devoted solely to patrolling trains.
Another BART creation is the Integrated Security Response Center, funded by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which replaced and expanded what is customarily called dispatch. It is the day-to-day command center where employees “watch over and make sure of the safety and security of our customers—and the system,” said BART spokesperson Linton Johnson.
Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) purchased the GIA Tracking Bomb Detection Robot—a state-of-the-art explosives and radionuclide detector that detects gamma rays. “In a sense,” said Jerri Williams, chief press officer, “it’s a bomb-sniffing machine—the only one of its kind.”
Discovery of an unattended package on a SEPTA vehicle or property triggers deployment of a Special Operations Response Team that uses the GIA Tracker-XRC to analyze the chemical makeup of the package. SEPTA is working with the manufacturer, Clear Path Technologies, to increase the tracker’s sensitivity.
“Post-9/11, SEPTA’s Transit Police Department has enhanced communications with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners and implemented training to enable officers to respond to threats anywhere throughout our 2,200-square-mile system,” said SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey. “While we hope our officers never have to put their response capabilities on full display, they are ready to do so at a moment’s notice.”
Public transit systems nationwide are using specially trained canines to aid in security efforts, particularly prevention. To name one major example, New York MTA formed the Explosive Detection K-9 unit, which currently deploys 50 K-9 teams throughout the system.
In Washington, explosive detection dogs—trained to detect a variety of odors connected to explosives—work with handlers to conduct random sweeps of trains, stations, and Metro facilities. WMATA received a five-year grant that will enable the system to keep the five canine teams it has now while also adding another five teams.
Los Angeles Metro has a strong uniformed and undercover police presence, augmented by teams of bomb-sniffing dogs and even the nation’s first chemical-sniffing dog.
In 2004, Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Center launched Vapor Wake Canine, an innovative program using dogs. Auburn, located in Georgia, asked MARTA to be the pilot for this new training.
This program was highly secretive because “no one knew originally if it would work,” Dunham explained. While the standard behavior for a drug explosive detecting dog is for the dog to sit down when it sniffs explosive material, the Vapor Wake Canine receives special training to alert the handler in a non-noticeable way, so there are no disruptions to the public and only the handler will know what the dog has found.
This training, Dunham cautioned, must be partnered with human behavior detection. For example, if a dog indicates explosive material but the individual is wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt—no vest, no backpack, no briefcase—then those cues would likely indicate that a bomb is not present.
This year, Auburn University graduated a class of vapor wake dogs that will be deployed across the country. With TSA having accepted (“embraced,” said Dunham) this technology, from now on every TSA canine will have that capability. MARTA, having hosted the pilot, is working closely with TSA to help develop policy procedures and protocols to roll out this program nationwide.
Across the country, public transit agencies have increased their policing capability—in both personnel and training. The New York MTA Police Department has grown by more than 40 percent, from 543 members to 768 today. This department has also significantly increased its presence on trains and at stations: in 2010, officers patrolled over 5,100 commuter rail trains and conducted over 47,000 random station inspections.
In the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, WMATA’s police department has grown from 320 to 458 officers. In Atlanta, the number of authorized sworn positions increased from 243 in 2001 to 321 today; in Boston, from 217 to 251.
Transit police officers now receive an array of training in such areas as behavioral detection methods for suicide bombers and how to respond to disasters through the National Incident Management System. BART’s Critical Asset Patrol Team, for example, “has a lot of flexibility and specialized training,” said Sgt. Edgardo Alvarez, supervisor of the team. Also at BART is Lt. Kevin Franklin, acting manager of security programs, whose primary focus is to identify security vulnerabilities and create strategies to shore them up. These strategies could include new training.
Los Angeles Metro’s Transit Services Bureau (TSB) is part of the Sheriff’s Department Homeland Security Division. With a dramatically increased number of officers—such as 44 sergeants today, compared with 26 in 2003—TSB deputies and special units (including K-9) receive training in such areas as Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings, Transit Awareness, and Urban Terrorism.
All these efforts and more by public transportation agencies can best be summed up by New York MTA’s Walder, who said: “The safety and security of our customers has always been the MTA’s top priority, and since 9/11 that has taken on new meaning.”
“Washington was one of the targets on 9/11,” said WMATA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Richard Sarles. “We know from intelligence that transit properties need to remain vigilant in the post-9/11 world, and we are focused on ensuring the safety and security of our customers through a layered approach that uses a combination of police, employees, and technology to keep our customers safe.”
Greg Hull, APTA director-security and operations support, contributed to this story.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority brings the “See Something, Say Something” message to its buses and Trinity Railway Express commuter trains.
MBTA's poster campaign makes passengers part of the security solution.