Management & Operations

Wide Awake to the Reality of Terrorism

Posted on July 1, 2005

The bombings of the London transit system on July 7 and 21 raised the world’s awareness of the vulnerability of public transportation to terrorist attacks. More than 50 people were killed in the July 7 attacks, which comprised three suicide bombings of the Tube and another of a doubledecker bus. Two weeks later, another synchronized attack was launched on the London transit system, but failed to cause any real damage. In the wake of the attacks, many transit systems are re-assessing their readiness and response capabilities. Editor Steve Hirano discussed these issues with transit officials in the following interviews. Stephen Webb, chief press officer, Transport for London
Ridership in the Tube has recovered strongly since the July 7 and July 21 attacks. How has Transport for London (TFL) been able to restore public confidence in the security of the Tube? Visible policing and staffing has played a major role. Our staff has worked extremely hard to restore services after the attacks and this “return to normal” so soon has certainly helped. We have also run reassurance and vigilance campaigns to demonstrate our commitment to safety and security. Are you considering the addition of high-tech security equipment (e.g., explosive-detection monitors, face-recognition technology) to the Tube system? We work extremely closely with the police and security services to keep the TFL network as safe as possible. However, although we do look into additional equipment, we have to balance any perceived benefits against the demands on our system. We have 3 million passengers a day using the Tube at more than 250 stations and over 6 million passengers a day getting on or off 8,000 buses right across the capital. With such high volumes of passengers, essential to keep London moving, many technologies are simply, at present, not practical. Here in the U.S., local transit systems are pushing the federal government to provide higher levels of funding for anti-terrorism security. Has TFL been able to procure outside funding for its security enhancements? If not, where is the funding coming from? London’s mayor and TFL have funded an extra 200 BTP [British Transport Police] officers over the past two years. We hope to continue building on this. Has ridership of double-decker buses returned to normal levels? Ridership levels on the buses returned to normal within a matter of days after July 7. Additional safety checks were introduced, and we have urged passengers to stay vigilant. Have operators of buses and trains been given any additional security training in the wake of the attacks? We have a regular program of safety and security training, and this has continued. A number of meetings have been held with staff safety representatives to share information and best practices and ensure we are all working together to make the network as safe as possible for passengers and staff. What part will TFL have in the new “Everyone’s London” campaign? Will you be integrating this campaign into your marketing materials? TFL is playing a major part in this campaign, as public transport is the best way to get around London and visit all the great shops and attractions that we have here. We will be running major advertising campaigns later this month and will be carrying the messages across our network and in the media. What’s been the most unexpected consequence of the July 7/21 bombings? The fortitude of our staff in dealing with the attacks and keeping the network running in the most difficult of circumstances has been, if not wholly unexpected, certainly impressive. Our passengers have also been fantastic with their determination not be deflected from going about their normal lives. Simon Lubin, media relations
British Transport Police

How much additional security manpower has been deployed in the wake of the London attacks? How long will you maintain this enhanced security routine? Following the July 7 attacks, British Transport Police and local police around Britain were involved in high-profile policing operations at stations. The largest-ever deployment of police at rail stations coincided with the week anniversary of the terrorist attacks in London on July 7 and 21 and was repeated subsequently. The purpose of the operation is to maintain the highest-possible profile on the rail system to reassure the public and to act as a deterrent. Armed officers from local police were used as part of this operation. Since then, those saturation operations have been scaled down, but teams of officers and explosives dogs are being used to carry out stop/search operations under terrorism legislation. We are now involved in London with a variation of policing tactics in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police. Overt policing is often combined with covert policing, and we have the ability to change our deployment patterns swiftly should the need arise. The consequences of deploying such a high level of policing as we have done over the past weeks does have an impact on our ability to deliver day-to-day policing. We have been faced by some difficult decisions regarding which current priorities our officers and staff are deployed to. Because of civil-rights concerns, U.S. transit officials are reluctant to use profiling to stop and search potential terrorists in transit systems. From what I understand, your security officers do use profiling strategies. Has there been any backlash? You are presumably talking about ethnic profiling. We do not see this as ethnic profiling any more than it is simply gender-based profiling or profiling based on time, place or demeanor. If we were combating IRA terrorism, then it would not make sense for us to stop lots of people from the black community. But ethnicity is only one element, and by labeling it ethnic profiling, the media have raised fears in some quarters. We are monitoring the impact and have had much support so far. How has the public responded to the more frequent searches of backpacks, bags and other potential bomb-laden items? Positively. Since the July 7 bombings, more than 10,000 stops have been carried out, and we have had good feedback. The use of dogs in particular helps to reassure the public and gain trust. Armed officers have an immediate visual impact (we are not used to seeing them here), but are not necessarily reassuring. David Webb, acting deputy chief
Washington Metro Transit Police

Are there any lessons learned from the recent attacks on the London transit system? Yes, terrorists are beginning to change their explosive of choice. They are using the locally available [explosives]. They continue to be well-planned attacks. They continue to fly under the radar as far as detection. Their deployment suggests that they are aware that transit agencies will attempt to stop operations after an attack. Therefore, bombs are going off very close together. Has your agency had conversations with officials at Transport for London or British Transport Police in regard to the attacks and how they might be prevented here in the U.S.? Yes, we had previously established a relationship with the British Transport Police and have participated in the several summits and debriefings after the London and Madrid attacks. With the use of suicide bombers in the attacks, has your transit police force changed its focus in any way since the July bombings? We have not changed our focus. We have been aware that an element of terrorism is to utilize suicide bombers. Our focus hasn’t changed. We have enhanced patrols, special operations and effective intelligence, and we are considering other options. Has there been more attention to searches of backpacks or people wearing heavy coats? Yes, we are surveying the transit environment for best practices and effectiveness while exploring the probability of instituting our own program for searches. Have you seen an increase in customer reports of suspicious people or packages in the subway or buses since the London bombings? Yes, our response to suspicious people and packages has increased. Are you planning to upgrade the security infrastructure of your system? If so, in what ways? We have had a long-term plan to increase security for the infrastructure, and it continues. Dan Finkelstein, captain
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Transit Services Bureau

Are there any lessons learned from the recent attacks on the London transit system? Yes, that terrorists can strike anywhere and at any time. Also, don’t think for a moment that terrorists are only focused on public transit or aviation assets as potential targets. Any areas with large numbers of people are a potential target: malls, stadiums, conferences, conventions, theaters, religious events, etc. Has your agency had conversations with officials at Transport for London or British Transport Police in regard to the attacks and how they might be prevented here in the U.S.? Yes, but I will not go into details with you. Suffice it to say we are doing everything that we can do, as has our Metro [Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority] board by its decisive actions to upgrade our CCTV camera systems. With the use of suicide bombers in the attacks, has your transit police force changed its focus in any way since the July bombings? We, as the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department [LASD], have trained for that potential likelihood. Also, even prior to the London attacks, we focused our awareness training of our employees to be “eyes, ears and a voice.” We also are engaging the public and our customers with respect to this. Has there been more attention to searches of backpacks or people wearing heavy coats? Unorthodox clothing and behaviors are what we key in, and have done so, especially from the lessons learned from Israel. Have you noticed any higher sense of anxiety among bus and rail passengers since the attacks? Or is it business as usual? The latter. Americans, for the most part, while they don’t want to be inconvenienced by the thoughts of terrorism, are also the last group of people that you want to cross. Are you planning to upgrade the security infrastructure of your system? If so, in what ways? CCTV upgrades in both rail and bus, intrusion detection, public outreach security messages, etc. Do you have plans to increase the size of your transit police force? Our focus for the present is the maximum effective utilization of the resources on hand. We can maximize the effectiveness of our deputies, fare-inspection personnel and our security forces by the element of engagement with the public and our customers. They need to be seen, heard and observed doing what they do, and are doing, best. After that is achieved, there is always the likelihood that Metro will want more of an already-good thing. Until then, there’s no such thing as “business as usual” for the LASD Transit Services Bureau and Metro. James Spiller, police chief
Dallas Area Rapid Transit

Are there any lessons learned from the recent attacks on the London transit system? Yes, we’ve been increasing public awareness of suspicious activity and explaining how to report it. We have a pamphlet that we hand out to our rail customers. It has phone numbers that they can contact if they observe something suspicious. It also includes general descriptions of suspicious behavior and packages. With the use of suicide bombers in the attacks, has your transit police force changed its focus in any way? Training in that area has been ongoing. We have a security coordinator who’s going to be attending a class in New Mexico on suicide bombers. Have you seen an increase in customer reports of suspicious people or packages in railcars or on buses since the London bombings? We get a lot of reports from our customers, whether it’s on our trains or buses or at stations and transit centers. Have your customers been more anxious in the wake of the London attacks? Texans are strange people. They were already pretty comfortable with what we were doing. I think their confidence level is high because we maintain a strong presence in the field. They know that we’re taking care of business. Are you planning to upgrade your security infrastructure? We’ve started a pilot project to put video surveillance cameras on certain bus lines and trains and at stations. It should be ready to go sometime this year. Do you have plans to increase the size of your transit police force? We’re planning on hiring more. But there are a lot of other things to do. For example, we’re doing very well with recruiting fare-enforcement officers, who go through the same training as police officers. How would you assess the safety and security of your system? Overall, I think the DART system is very safe. We’re doing a lot of innovative things with technology and making sure that our mobile employees and our customers are serving as our eyes and ears on a day-to-day basis. It’s a comprehensive effort.

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