Management & Operations

All Eyes on Transit Security

Posted on August 1, 2003

When it comes to transit security, there is no such thing as too much vigilance. Though public transportation may now be safer and more prepared for emergencies than ever before, it is by no means a time to be content and not attempt to raise the bar. With this in mind, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has created a nationwide safety and security awareness program, dubbed Transit Watch. The program is designed to be an easy and low-cost way for transit officials to encourage the active participation of passengers and employees in maintaining a safe environment. Modeled on the highly successful Neighborhood Watch crime prevention program, which the National Sheriff’s Association implemented in the early 1970s, Transit Watch seeks to foster the role of transit as a safe haven in communities across the country. A collaborative effort To develop Transit Watch, the FTA teamed with several industry partners, including the American Public Transportation Association, the Community Transportation Association of America, the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transportation Security Administration. Research for the project included a survey on various transit-related issues of 16 agencies, which represented large, medium and small transit systems in geographically and demographically diverse communities. The study found that 75% of transit agencies observed increased employee concern levels after Sept. 11. Additionally, only 50% of the agencies surveyed had some form of safety/security materials available. Further development for Transit Watch included a series of focus groups the FTA conducted with transit passengers and employees across the country. In every city, participants cited instances of local violence or suspicious behavior that had taken place in the context of transit use. The consensus among participants was that a vigilant partnership between riders and employees would be beneficial for all. Transit employees also reported that they would feel safer knowing that passengers would report suspicious activities to them. Launching the campaign Participants in the focus groups also provided input on a final creative design for Transit Watch. The result is a series of brochures and posters that display slogans such as, “Follow your instinct: if something does not look right, let us know,” and “When it comes to our safety, we can always use an extra pair of eyes.” The FTA and its partners devised a Transit Watch toolkit that contains everything transit authorities need to implement the program in their area. Artwork and document templates are included on a CD in the toolkit so each agency can easily customize its own materials. Before launching a local Transit Watch campaign, officials are encouraged to distribute information to select media outlets. The toolkit includes sample press releases that make the process as easy as copying and pasting in the agency’s name. The FTA also recommends giving Transit Watch presentations during staff, department and board meetings to generate involvement and ensure that everyone understands and supports the campaign. Furthermore, it is critical that all agency employees know what to do if passengers bring security concerns to their attention. When all of the pieces are in place for a local Transit Watch program, officials should organize a launch event/press conference in a centrally located transit hub that is easily accessible to the media and other guests. The mayor, city council members, chief of police and head of a local transit union are good choices for special invitees. It is recommended that the event consist of a brief agenda and take place on a slow news day, such as a Monday, to secure maximum media coverage. After the official launch, the transit agency should continue to contact local media outlets with updates and news items on the program to continually keep Transit Watch in the public eye. Multitasking The FTA designed Transit Watch to correspond with its “Top 20 Security Program Action Items for Transit Agencies,” which the administration released in January. The list contains measures recommended by the FTA as a means for local transit authorities to improve security and emergency preparedness. Of the 20 objectives on the list, participation in Transit Watch directly accomplishes two, which fall under the “Training” category: No. 12 — Security orientation or awareness materials are provided to all front-line employees. No. 14 — Public awareness materials are developed and distributed on a system-wide basis. To obtain a Transit Watch toolkit or additional information, contact Tina Burke in the FTA’s Office of Communications and Congressional Affairs at (202) 493-0937,, or Gail Taylor in the FTA’s Office of Safety and Security at (202) 366-1218,

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