With terrorism’s grim threat now a fact of everyday life, public transit agencies everywhere have watched security concerns seep steadily into every facet of their operation. Employee training, video surveillance, baggage screening, passenger identification checks, equipment upgrades and rider education head a long list of measures agencies have implemented to protect themselves from the worst-case scenario.
But when it comes to transit security, one crucial area that has remained relatively unsung is the maintenance department.
“Many people don’t realize it, but maintenance employees play a huge part in the defense against terrorism since they are the last to see a vehicle before it goes out and the first to see it when it returns,” says Bob Lupini, senior bus maintenance instructor for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
Heroes don’t retire
Despite their important role in security, it can be a formidable challenge to get maintenance technicians, already responsible for the safety and condition of vehicles, to also feel comfortable serving as de facto security personnel.
The key to getting their best effort, says Lupini, is to inform them without scaring them. “We have a saying in our department to help them understand their role — heroes don’t retire,” he says. “We don’t want them to feel like they have to do anything crazy and be a hero. We have a transit police force for that, so notifying the right person is the real way to be a hero around here.”
Technicians already possess the knowledge and skills to make them an effective terrorism deterrent. Rather than feel like rescuers, they merely need to be the eyes and ears of a transit property’s facilities and equipment.
According to Lupini, no one better serves the purpose of being observant than maintenance workers who’ve been trained thoroughly on the ins and outs of each bus. Being able to operate vehicles, open doors, access compartments and understand components are critical parts of maintaining security.
Eyes and ears in action
Lupini gives the following guidelines for improving maintenance security:
Train with visual aids. Use props, videos and classroom discussions. Good props include boxes, envelopes, items left in vehicles and anything that simulates what a terrorist might use. Additionally, the National Transit Institute offers several videos aimed specifically at identifying terrorist warning signs.
Conduct routine inspections. Shop workers should be required to perform simple but frequent examinations of vehicles. “We once had a worker doing a quick check-up find a group of flares duct-taped together and rigged in a front engine compartment,” says Lupini.
Search in the right places. Have employees look under seats and in “suspicious” areas. For example, an open compartment under the hood of a bus should raise a red flag.
Know what you’re looking for. Idling vehicles, a person taking photos, odd smells and unfamiliar people without badges are all causes for alarm. Employees should be trained to know when something is out of the ordinary.
Keep the area clean. A clean, organized shop allows workers to notice when anything is missing, particularly something dangerous such as fuel.
Use constant reminders. Adorning your shop area with information is a good way to keep workers focused on vigilance. Posters, charts and signs with reminders on them should be pinned up in visible areas.
Report and evacuate. Keep employees out of harm’s way by instructing them to notify the proper authority and then leave the area.