Soon after planes struck the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and one crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, stunned Americans began the surreal exercise of imagining the next possible targets and planning to protect the nations critical infrastructure.
During the past few months, eWeek reporters have contacted a dozen hot points in the nations infrastructure, from power plants and pipelines to mass communication networks and critical transportation hubs, to gauge their readiness for another attack. (For further coverage, go to www.eweek.com.)
The verdict: While many public agencies have begun to deploy new technologies to secure the nations vital infrastructure—especially mass transportation conduits—the task remains a work in progress. Some safeguards have been put into place, but a cohesive security plan is far from a reality.
"In the United States, trains have always been safe," said Gary Gee, chief of police at BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, in Oakland, Calif. "But weve seen whats happened in Paris and London and Tokyo and whats happening with the buses in Israel. So we know these are real scenarios we have to be prepared for. Before Sept. 11, we were talking about all that stuff. Now were facing it for real. Our lives have changed forever."
Naturally, transportation systems and high-rise buildings have received most of the attention. At BART, the primary concern is securing the underwater tunnel connecting San Francisco to Oakland. "Thats basically our lifeline and the greatest point of vulnerability in our system," Gee said.
BART is adding technology to monitor tunnel entrances to determine when a person, rather than a train, enters a tunnel. "If its smaller than a train and bigger than a mouse, itll set off an alarm," Gee said.
BART is also relying on riders to be its eyes and ears, Gee said. In addition, it has contracted with AT&T Corp. to provide wireless phone service in underground train stations using the fiber-optic networks that BART police officers use for their radios. "Weve had less and less complaints about cell phones since Sept. 11," he said.
The Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corp., in Detroit, has been testing an alert system developed by wireless messaging software provider Simplewire Inc. Called Border Message Information System, it allows the organization to alert law enforcement, public service agencies and others about events such as threats, disruptions or even simple traffic delays in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which connects the United States to Windsor, Ontario. The system was set to go live late last month or early this month, said Neal Belitsky, vice president of operations at Detroit & Canada Tunnel.
"After [Sept. 11], we realized that the number of public safety/law enforcement agencies that needed to know what was going on at the border was staggering," Belitsky said.
While airports became the focus of attention and spending for security after Sept. 11, the security of the nations seaports continues to get second billing. Federal agencies tasked with protecting shipping centers and commercial ports—the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs Service—remain in the draft planning stages.
Local authorities are moving ahead, cobbling together off-the-shelf technologies while they await federal action. "There are a lot of unknowns out there in terms of what ports have done," said Mary Beth Long, a government relations representative at the American Association of Port Authorities, in Washington.
The Port of Long Beach, Calif., one of the nations busiest, has installed two gamma ray machines that spin around the outside of a container to see whats inside. The port also has plans for a high-tech evacuation system, but funding is an issue. The port received $4.3 million of the $93.3 million that Congress authorized for port security last year, but officials said its not enough.
In Boston, Joe Lawless, director of maritime and bridge security for Massport, said, "Weve offered ourselves to be a testbed beta site for any local company to see how the technology works."
Nearby Logan International Airport, also in Boston, is an example of how well airports have fared under the post-Sept. 11 microscope. Logan officials are testing a variety of applications: the BorderGuard travel document authentication system, from Imaging Automation Inc.; a vehicle access control system, from GenuOne Inc.; and Public Safety Group Inc.s Pocket Cop, a Palm OS-based handheld application that lets state troopers run criminal background checks remotely.
Logan has also been among the first to test biometric security software from Visage Technologies Inc., of Littleton, Mass., and Identix Inc., of Minnetonka, Minn. (For more on specific biometric technologies, see story, Page 25.)
Additional security cameras are also par for the course in airport security. Los Angeles International Airport plans to install more than 1,200 video cameras through the airport complex, through a $15 million initiative that Mayor Jim Hahn announced last month.
With safeguards in place at airports, a repeat of the Sept. 11 scenario seems unlikely. Still, Chicagos 108-story Sears Tower—Americas tallest building—has to be considered a target.
Spurred into action by the terrorist attacks, TrizecHahn Properties Inc., the skyscrapers management company, hired Johnson Controls Inc., of Milwaukee, which has deployed a variety of technologies to bolster security in the 4.5 million-square-foot building.
Reviewing available security options, the company selected technologies that would reduce risks but not significantly disrupt traffic in the building, which accommodates as many as 25,000 office workers every workday.
"The first thing we wanted to do was to secure the buildings core, the lobby, as well as the access to elevators," said Mark Eggerding, director of systems integration for Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls at the Sears Tower in Chicago. Before Sept. 11, he said, the Sears Tower was "pretty much open to the public."
Since the attacks, Johnson Controls has deployed metal detection and X-ray scanners to screen visitors to the Sears Tower, added 34 optical turnstiles outside elevators to restrict access, and put in place a new badge and video identification system.
Emergency systems were also upgraded. For example, a special phone system was installed in the buildings stairwells, designed for use in high-rise fires. It allows not only communications between floors but can be used to contact fire control facilities that monitor the building. While Eggerding said the company is considering other security technologies, such as biometric devices, existing products are not sufficient to handle the number of visitors the building has each day.
The bottom-line question regarding security is, How much will the public demand—and tolerate?
"On Sept. 12, its What are you going to do?" Eggerding said. "Three months later, What are you continuing to do? Six months after the fact, its Why are you doing that? Nine months later, Dont do that to me." ´
Story reported by Dennis Callaghan, Matt Hicks, Carmen Nobel and Ken Popovich
- Special Report: Rebuilding for Tomorrow
- Focus on Identity, Vigilance
- Locked Down, Planning for the Worst