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Addressing Security in Public Transportation

The June 11 General Session, “Safety and Security Trends in an Uncertain World,” featured a panel of experts who addressed terrorism, cybersecurity, asset management and risk management and their impacts on public transportation. Grace Crunican, general manager of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, moderated the session.

Brian Michael Jenkins, director of the National Transportation Safety and Security Center, Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), noted how acts of terror—including attacks on surface transportation—are increasing worldwide. Public transportation hubs and vehicles typically contain large numbers of people in confined environments and thus present a lucrative target to terrorists, he explained.

Attacks are increasingly being carried out by homegrown, individual terrorists who are inspired by exhortations on the Internet, on social media and by other attacks. “These people carry out acts where they live,” said Jenkins, “meaning they can take place anywhere in the country.” The acts are becoming less sophisticated, he said, with knives and axes common weapons and, significantly for public transit, the use of vehicles to ram people.

A recent MTI study looked at the locations of these incidents with the highest level of fatalities, finding two categories: public assemblies on streets, particularly street markets, and pedestrianized streets. Since those locations have a finite perimeter, they can be protected by barriers, bollards and even parked vehicles, said Jenkins. However, car ramming attacks also happen at bus stops and around stations, which are more difficult to cordon off.
Panelists, from left: Grace Crunican, Brian Michael Jenkins, Michael Echols, David Genova and James Keane.

Jenkins described the security challenge facing surface transportation as it compares to aviation. “We cannot apply the aviation security model to surface transportation because of volume and cost and because aviation security is rules-driven; FAA directives apply throughout the country,” he said. “Surface transportation systems are too diverse for a one-size-fits-all rules approach to work. Security for public transit must be best-practices oriented that is absolutely dependent on an exchange of information.”

Public transit agencies that are well prepared to deal with crime, safety and disaster issues should find that many of those skills and practices can be applied in a security/anti-terrorism context, he explained. And the effects of vigilance cannot be understated.

“We have found that alert passengers and staff are responsible for identifying 20 percent of explosive devices planted by terrorists, and by reporting suspicious objects and activities are responsible for thwarting 11 percent of attacks,” he said. “‘See Something, Say Something’ campaigns do work.”

According to Michael Echols, executive director/chief executive officer of the International Association of Certified ISAOs [Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations], cybersecurity is “probably the number-one issue facing the nation,” with a potential for devastating effects on public transportation.

Echols argued, however, that people may be confused by the meaning of the word. “Cybersecurity is a buzzword,” he said. “Cybersecurity is nothing more than digital risk management. To understand cybersecurity, you have to understand risk: threats, vulnerabilities and consequences.”

As public transit agencies embrace new technologies to give riders the kind of service they want, the risk, he said, is that the agencies are also giving bad actors greater opportunities to exploit.

“Your employees are the conduit to the most [unintentional] damage that can be done to you,” Echols cautioned. “We need to look at how we train our employees. A culture of cybersecurity should be established so that employees know what they should and shouldn’t do, including handling malicious emails and phishing scams. The IT guy is there to provide access; he is not the cybersecurity guy.”

Echols urged public transit agencies not to rely on the government for protection from cyber threats but, echoing Jenkins, to share information and best practices with peer agencies.

David Genova, general manager and CEO of Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), conference host system, described how asset management means more than simply having an inventory and good preventive maintenance programs; it is about managing risk. “Think in terms of lifecycle,” he said, “We can’t wait to begin asset management after something’s built or procured; it begins when we start thinking about what we want to build.”

Genova recounted how, in 2010, the RTD Board of Directors adopted asset management as a strategic priority—to drive safety, reliability and fiscal sustainability. With resources dedicated to these efforts, the agency leveraged a dedicated division, reporting through the safety department and drawn from rail and infrastructure maintenance, IT and procurement, tasked with gathering data to conduct condition assessments across all assets.

A couple of years ago, he continued, RTD decided to pursue ISO 55000 certification [an international standard covering management of physical assets] to “chase excellence.” The agency commissioned consultants to conduct data assessments and provide an independent, third-party view of the agency’s vulnerabilities.

The resulting gap assessment provided RTD clear direction on its asset management and state of good repair program and is influencing all operations; the agency has in place an asset management steering committee of senior leadership that sets goals and objectives and develops key performance indicators.

James Keane, vice chair of the APTA Risk Management Committee and general manager, operations safety, of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), described the “clear and present danger” facing public transportation. “What keeps me up at night?” he asked. “I worry about our people and the people we serve. I worry about equipment and systems. And the biggest worry of all: terrorism.”

To better respond to these threats, Keane said, PANYNJ divided its risk management function into enterprise risk management, reporting to the board of directors through the finance committee, and security risk management, reporting to the board through the security committee. The two components work very well together, he added, because they acknowledge the imperative of efficiently addressing exposures and vulnerabilities: “There are only so many dollars to address these areas; we want to make sure we utilize those dollars properly.”

As an example, Keane described how the authority looked at the possibility of placing security bollards around the perimeter of its properties. With maximum return sought on the investment, it was determined the bollards also could be used for flood protection by placing horizontal members between them. “It’s part of our ‘all hazards’ approach,” he said.

PANYNJ is active in joint terrorism task forces and, as mentioned by Jenkins and Echols, makes a point of learning from and sharing information with other agencies. “‘See Something, Say Something’ is a force multiplier that can make us much more effective,” said Keane. “We all need to educate our staff so that they have the confidence to come forward if they see something out of place.”
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