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By Steve Dunham
Journal of Homeland Security, March 2002. Copyright 2002 Analytic Services. Reprinted by permission.
Public transportation was under assault by terrorists long before
A recent horrifying
example occurred in India on
For those determined to kill in quantity and willing to kill indiscriminately, public transportation offers an ideal target, wrote Brian Michael Jenkins of the Mineta Transportation Institute.
Precisely because it is public, and used by millions of people daily, there is necessarily little security with no obvious checkpoints, like those at airports, to inspect passengers and parcels. The passengers are strangers, promising attackers anonymity and easy escape. Concentrations of people in contained environments are especially vulnerable to conventional explosives and unconventional weapons. Specifically, attacks on public transportation, the circulatory systems of urban environments, cause great disruption and alarm, which are the traditional goals of terrorism.3
The attack on the
train in India is one of the worst to date in terms of casualties and religious
violence against public transportation and, unfortunately, one more record for
India in this area. India leads the world in attacks on public transportation
and in fatalities from those attacks,4
with countries in Asia and Africa close behind. Terrorists, however, have been
targeting mass transit in more industrialized countries as well. The United Kingdom
and Germany each experienced six threats or attacks from
The United States
experienced five attacks on public transportation during the early 1990s:6
In 1992, someone left a hand grenade on a railroad station platform in Chicago.
In December 1994, six days apart, two bombs went off on the
So far, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation, better known by its acronym, PATH, is the
Three New York
City subway9 lines also suffered damage on
Because of the history
of attacks on public transportation, notably in Britain, where the London Underground
was repeatedly a target for the Irish Republican Army, transit system managers
have long been aware of transits vulnerability. Even so, the
Security assessments are being conducted by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as well. Its members participate in voluntary safety management audits every three years. The association is also sponsoring industry roundtable forums on security.12
Jennifer Dorn noted that her administration has been very cooperative with APTA and the transit providers and said that the point of the security assessments is to provide a value for [transit] agencies, some of whom have been doing a fantastic job and others who have not had to focus on it yet.13
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is one agency that had an extensive security program before
The Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system (known as BART) serving the
maintains an elite group of personnel who will serve as the first response team to a surface terrorism-related incident. This carefully trained group of specialists (approximately five to eight people on any given
day)can assemble at any crisis site along the 95-milesystem within 45 to 60 minutesof an incidents occurrence.
core group members carry special suits, hoods, gloves, and other protective equipment in their cars. Protective equipment also is stored at strategic
locationsknown only to the specialists.17
Although it has its own response team, Bay Area Rapid Transit doesnt plan to handle terrorists on its own. According to agency protocol, any remotely related terrorism incident, or terrorist threat, will trigger a notification to the FBI on account of the FBIs superior resources, availability of experts for rapid threat assessments and evaluation of technical feasibility, and ability to marshal other federal resources, wrote Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten.18 The agencys Nuclear/Biological/Chemical Response plan and its general emergency plan are distributed to other first-responding agencies.19
The Port Authority Transit Corporation, which operates a rapid transit line between Lindenwold (NJ) and Philadelphia, also had a securityand antiterrorismprogram
service turned out to be a major role for transit systems on
Alexandria firefightersbut not all their vehicleswere needed at the Pentagon. The city command center asked for three buses to transport the firefighters, who were assembling at one of the firehouses, to the Pentagon and to serve as emergency ambulances if
Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express trains leave Washington for Virginia via a tunnel under First Street on the east side of Capitol Hill, and the Secret Service closed the tunnel and sent agents through it to inspect it, stopping passenger train service till mid-afternoon. At the same time, the Washington Metro stopped operating its Yellow Line across the Potomac because it crosses the river on a bridge under the flight path of planes entering and leaving National Airport. The rail service disruptions left thousands of passengers stranded in Washington. [Alexandria Transit] sent about six buses to Washington Union Station to bring people to King Street station in Alexandria.21
From there, Alexandria
Transit buses substituted for stranded Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express trains
and carried people to points as far away as Fredericksburg, VA (about
Similar scenes played out in other cities, where transit agencies needed operational flexibility to cope with an unplanned rush hour as commuters departed the cities and as transit provided substitute service for other disrupted modes of transportation.
The job of providing substitute service may continue long after a terrorist attack. For example, New Jersey Transit trains have experienced severe crowding since the attack on the World Trade Center, which closed one PATH line. The problem has been exacerbated by the restriction of Hudson River highway crossings to high-occupancy vehicles during rush hours.22
All New Jersey Transit trains to Manhattan use two tracks under the Hudson, which are also used by Amtrak. Unable to absorb all the former PATH riders,
In addition, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has pledged
$49 millionto rebuild the deteriorating docks at the Hoboken train terminalthe destination for trains from Orange and Rockland counties. And NJ Transit and NY Waterway are spending $25 millionto replace the Weehawken ferry terminal near the Lincoln Tunnel.
NY Waterway, the principal operator between New Jersey and New York City, and other ferry companies have been hailed for their quick response during and after the
Sept. 11terrorist attacks.24
Although the attack on the Pentagon did not directly destroy any transit infrastructure, for months after the attack, highway access to and parking near Defense Department headquarters were greatly restricted, and commuter buses were routed away from the Metro station located at the giant office buildings front door. Traffic congestion on
Besides providing substitute transportation, another role for transit agencies during an emergency is to assist first responders by providing temporary shelter. When firefighters spend hours battling a blaze, for example, a bus on the scene can serve as a portable rest shelter for rescue workers, explained Sandy Modell, the general manager of Alexandria Transit.26
While providing these emergency services, transit agencies try to maintain or restore normal service as well. Even without large numbers of casualties, disruptions to transit can seriously impact a regions economy and the publics faith in the governments ability to provide basic protections to its citizens, wrote Brian Michael Jenkins and
and maintenance of operations requires the agency to quickly reduce the disruptions
caused by bomb threats or explosions, keep the trains and buses moving during
the crisis, rapidly
An example of rapid restoration is the Paris Metros response to the 1995 afternoon rush-hour bombing at the St. Michel station that killed
Such resilience is common in the United Kingdom as well. As the authorities became more familiar with the IRAs modus operandi, they were able to develop procedures that reduced response time and the duration of disruptions, wrote Brian Michael Jenkins and
In the United States, with the exception of PATH and the New York City subways, the attacks on public transportation have not caused long-term disruption and in all cases
have resulted in few casualties. Ironically, those two transit systems in
This low incidence
of casualties and of disruption does not translate into immunity.
The United States has yet to suffer a major attack on one of its public transportation
Authorities believe urban rail, commuter rail, and bus and rail terminals are at greatest risk of being targeted in a terrorist event. Bridges and tunnels are perceived to be slightly less at risk. Bus vehicles and ferries are considered the least likely targets for terrorist activities, wrote Annabelle Boyd and John P. Sullivan.32
Roll-on/roll-off passenger ferries may be vulnerable to the use of a car bomb attack, aimed at damaging, disabling or sinking the vessel, causing fire on board and/or harm to the passengers and the crew, according to the International Chamber
of Shipping.33 The immense catalog of disasters at sea indicates the possibilities for high casualties in an attack on a ferry, particularly if it causes fire on board. At least four
Bus explosions cause less disruption to a system than attacks on railways. If the bus is halted and evacuated, or even if the bomb detonates causing casualties, traffic can
be rerouted and service restored more easily, wrote Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten.34 However, as their work shows, buses were the targets of
Light railways (typically one- or two-car electric trains operating on street trackage or other surface right-of-way and sometimes in tunnels) carry more passengers than buses do and hence have a higher potential for casualties in an attack; also, they are more vulnerable to disruption, as a disabled vehicle can block operations on a line. At least
Fifteen U.S. cities have commuter rail: diesel-powered or electric passenger
trains operating on regular railroad lines. A typical train will have hundreds
of passengers. Passenger trainsboth intercity and commuter trainsaccounted
for 13 of the recent terrorist attacks cited by Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry
N. Gersten, but the fatalities were, in all cases but two, 12 or fewer. In the
only attack on a passenger train in the United States since 1939 (when saboteurs
wrecked the Union Pacifics City of San Francisco,
Just as vulnerable to terrorist attack is the subway
During rush hour, a subway train may be carrying over a thousand people, and an explosion, derailment, or biological or chemical attack in the confined space of a tunnel or underground station would hold the potential for high casualties. Nevertheless, in the two
most notorious attacks on subways in recent yearsthe 1995 attacks in Paris
and Tokyokilled fewer than might be expected: 7 and
However, the Tokyo attack, although causing relatively few deaths, resulted in a shockingly high number of casualties. The attackers used sarin, a poison gas, which made more than 5,000 people sick, injuring 3,398 of them, 1,596 seriously.37 The death toll could have been much higher, except that the sarin was hastily concocted and impure. The use of chemical weapons also changed the thinking of transit agencies in the United States about the threats they face.
The Tokyo attack prompted the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, known as Metro, to initiate a chemical sensor program for its rail lines. The authority wants to equip all 47 of its underground stations with chemical sensors. (Metro also has
Since its opening in 1976, Metrorail has earned a reputation as a secure, low-crime system, but the specter of terrorism requires Metro to do more than keep street crime off the subway. Metrorail stations already have attendants and surveillance cameras, and the authority is planning major security improvements:39
Under the watchful eye of Congress, and with federal largesse, the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit
Authority is expected to lead the nation in safety, security, and service. In
many areas it is a leader, certainly in the deployment of chemical agent sensors.
However, transit agencies across the country are also increasing security, partly
in response to the terrorist attacks of
Responses range from public information to antiterrorism exercises. Two examples from Florida: One of the anthrax victims was a regular passenger on the
Many transit systems now routinely check vehicles and stations to be sure that no unidentified packages have been left behind. Virtually every transit agency is at least examining its security and determining areas of vulnerability that can be remedied.
Best practices within the transit industry are being shared and examined for implementation where appropriate.
Britain, which experienced decades of terrorist assault by the Irish Republican Army, makes use of architectural liaison officers, bomb shelter areas, blast-resistant litter bins, closed-circuit television, and communications, training, testing, patrols, and public involvement to obstruct terrorist activity.42 Across Britain, passenger railways have adopted measures to suit their needs and shared their best practices with each other. Improved visibility at stations is a part of every security programmany systems employ closed-circuit television and make use of better lighting, mirrors, open space, and reduced vegetation at outdoor stations.43
In the United States, government and industry assistance for planning transit system security takes many forms.
The John A. Volpe
National Transportation Systems Center has published a Transit Security Handbook44
explaining the Federal Transit Administrations State Safety Oversight
Improving Transit Security,46 published by the Transportation Research Board, deals with crime and relates experiences of transit systems in combating crime. The boards Transportation System Security web page47 includes information on general transportation security and surface transportation security.
The Federal Transit Administrations Office of Safety and Security published 186 pages of Critical Incident Management Guidelines48 in 1998. The main sectionsComprehensive Emergency Management, Problem Identification, Hazard Analysis, Risk Assessment, and Planning, Emergency Preparedness, Crisis Mitigation, Response, Recovery, Intentional Acts: Addressing Transit Terrorism, and Assisting with Community Disaster Response and Recoveryfocus primarily on responding to emergencies. The guidelines generally divide response to terrorism into two components: crisis management and consequence management.
In 1985, the Volpe Center, funded by the Urban Mass Transit Administration, published Recommended Emergency Preparedness Guidelines for Rail Transit Systems,49 covering emergency rail plan development, training, facilities and equipment, and vehicles. The guidelines recommend that transit agencies develop policies and procedures for emergency actions (for example, If it is decided to uncouple derailed or burning cars from trains for evacuation of passengers, who makes the decision to use this strategy?), establish inter-organizational agreements to cover emergency response, assign transit system functions and responsibilities in emergencies, and create decision-making aids to speed emergency response. Training improvements should focus on familiarizing fire and life safety personnel and transit system personnel with each others facilities, equipment, operations, and supporting documentation. The guidelines emphasize the need for emergency drills and public awareness, as well as the need to design for emergenciesfor example, constructing tunnels with passenger evacuation in mind and provision for pumping out flood water. (The PATH tunnels from New Jersey to the World Trade Center suffered flooding after the collapse of the towers.)
The American Public Transportation Association has produced Checklists for Emergency Response Planning and System Security, which covers everything from developing a plan to ensuring that security checklists are regularly used.50
To defend public transportation against terrorism, the tools are there, and so is the experience, both in America and abroad. Although the months since
Click on an end note to return to the article.
1. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten, Protecting Public Surface Transportation Against Terrorism and Serious Crime: Continuing Research on Best Security Practices
2. Celia W. Dugger, Hindu Rioters Kill
3. Brian Michael Jenkins, Protecting Surface Transportation Systems and Patrons From Terrorist Activities (San Jose, CA: Mineta Transportation Institute, 1997),
4. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
7. Bruce Becker, PATHs Heroic Efforts, ESPA (Empire State Passengers Association) Express, November-December 2001; www.trainweb.com/espa/espa1201.htm.
8. Port Authority Board OKs
9. Run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates all rapid transit lines in
10. New York City SubwaysAfter Sept 11, ESPA Express, NovemberDecember 2001; www.trainweb.com/espa/espa1201.htm.
11. Passenger Transport interview with Federal Transit Administrator Jennifer Dorn,
12. APTA at Forefront of Industrys Response to Security Threats in America Under Threat (Washington, DC: American Public Transportation Association, 2001),
13. Passenger Transport interview.
14. Shaun P. McCarthy, The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority: Contingency Planning for the 1996 Olympics in Brian Michael Jenkins Protecting Surface Transportation Systems and Patrons From Terrorist Activities,
16. MARTAs Policing Strategy Faces a Timely Launch, in America Under Threat,
17. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
20. T. R. Hickey, PATCOs Security Drill
21. Steve Dunham, Bus System Did Part After
22. Mobilizing the Region,
23. Judy Rife, Ferries to Play Bigger Role in NYC Commute, Times Herald-Record (Bergen County, NJ),
25. About the VRE, Performance Statistics: Ridership Growth; www.vre.org/about/performance/sld004.htm.
26. Steve Dunham.
27. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
28. Brian Michael Jenkins,
31. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
32. Annabelle Boyd and John P. Sullivan, Emergency Preparedness for Transit Terrorism, Transportation Research News,
33. Guidance for Shipowners, Ship Operators and Masters on the Protection of Ships From Terrorism and Sabotage (London: International Chamber of Shipping, 2001),
34. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
36. Brian Michael Jenkins,
37. Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
38. Phone interview with Ray Feldmann of the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority,
39. Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, press release,
Whats New for Metro in 2002,
Tri-Rail Battles Rumors; Operates Proactively
in America Under Threat,
Miami-Dade Transit on High Security Alert in
America Under Threat,
Brian Michael Jenkins and Larry N. Gersten,
45. See David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshalls The Cult
at the End of the World