After the hijacking of four airplanes last September 11, government agencies and companies involved in mass transit got a clear message that they could be the focus of future terrorist attacks.
While there has not yet been a such an attack on trains or buses in the United States, mass transit organizations are slowly beefing up their security and improving contingency planning.
San Franciscos Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as BART, has taken its cues from attacks on mass transit systems in Paris, London and Tokyo, according to the Oakland, Calif., agencys Chief of Police, Gary Gee. Besides increased monitoring of an underwater tunnel that connects its San Francisco and Oakland mass transit lines, BART has increased surveillance generally.
All 39 stations have cameras; Coliseum station in a high-crime area in Oakland has all digital cameras – 32 altogether – that send high quality color images back to a command center. Gee said he would like all stations to have a similar setup, but funds are not available.
BART gets its revenues from fares and state sales tax, both of which have taken a hit from the slumping economy in the area. Ridership is down by 30,000 per day from two years ago.
Only one-third of BARTs train cars are equipped with cameras. But BART is relying on riders to be its eyes and ears, Gee said. The agency will soon have posters at train stations and on cars, encouraging riders to be aware of their surroundings and to report suspicious behavior. It also will provide wireless phone service in underground stations.
BART is also taking precautions against chemical attacks, ordering hand-held chemical detectors and gas masks for its officers as well as chemical protective suits for SWAT teams.
In the event of a future terrorist attack, the agency plans to be more cautious than it was Sept. 11. On that day, BART tried to move passengers out of the city as quickly as possible. Gee said if there is a next time, BART will be shut down until trains and stations are found to be secure, in case it would be a secondary target.
“Before Sept. 11, we were talking about all that stuff,” Gee said. “Now were facing it for real. Our lives have changed forever.”
: Transit Agencies Quietly Beef Up Security”>
Gee points to Washington D.C.s Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as the trendsetters in mass transit security. WMATA, which transports 47 percent of the federal government workforce in the D.C. area every day, has worked in conjunction with three cabinet-level departments – Energy, Justice and Transportation – to improve security, according to spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
Those improvements include increasing the number of stations with chemical detectors from two to 10 and securing restricted areas.
“Weve secured areas we dont want people to enter like air shafts and rail yards,” Farbstein said. An alarm is triggered if entry detected.
All stations had video monitoring before, mainly for crowd control purposes, Farbstein said. Now cameras at many stations have been equipped to record as well.
WMATA has also added more police officers and bomb-detection dogs and has taken several other measures Farbstein said shes “not at liberty to discuss.”
The agency is installing vehicle locator devices in its buses, with installation expected to be completed by the end of 2003. Recordable cameras have also been installed in 100 buses.
In addition, WMATA has worked with the Metropolitan Police Council to develop an evacuation plan for city. Evacuation was successful last Sept. 11, though Farbstein concedes the agency was lucky because it still had the maximum number of trains in service just coming out of morning rush hour.
Greyhound Bus Lines had a terrorist scare on Oct. 3, 2001, when a rider stabbed a driver in the neck, forcing the company to shut down its national bus service. The incident turned out to be an isolated event not related to any terrorist groups.
Since then, Greyhound has become more security conscious and is now updating surveillance cameras in 35 company-owned locations to digital cameras with clearer, color pictures. Its also adding more cameras to cover more of each terminal.
Drivers have also been given cell phones preprogrammed to call local 911 and the Greyhound Operations Center at press of button, said spokeswoman Kim Plaskett.
“A bus is like a plane that falls off the radar screen without a trace,” said Plaskett, in Dallas. “By giving them cell phones they can inform us of the situation and whats going on.”
Any aggressive behavior by riders is now grounds for removal from the bus. “Weve seen a significant improvement in that regard in getting unruly passengers off the bus,” Plaskett said.
Greyhound does not have reservations or passenger manifests so it does no profiling or screening of passengers. However, company employees do randomly check some passengers and carry-on luggage with a metal-detection wand. Drivers are also conducting more extensive pre- and post-inspection of vehicles.
Greyhound has no computerized system for adding more buses in time of emergency. Employees make judgment calls at the stations based on demand.
Greyhound has so far foot the bill for all of the security improvements it has made but is looking to get up to $15 million in federal government money for security expenditures. The company is also looking for ways to positively identify all customers, not just those who pick up tickets at will-call windows, but its still too early to talk about those plans, Plaskett said.
- Rebuilding for Tomorrow
- Securing Possible New Targets