Management & Operations

Embracing the new normal

Posted on October 18, 2006 by Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher

Most vividly, I recall the images of people falling from the upper floors and survivors powdered in gray dust staggering away from the scene. I remember being grateful that my son was only 2 years old, too young to comprehend the significance of the event and the ensuing national trauma.

Was it really five years ago?

How much distance do we have to put between ourselves and that day before we can say that life is again normal? Or do we have to resign ourselves to a “new normal”? Will every succeeding generation of Americans understand that the threat of terrorism is a fact of life, as it has been in many parts of the world for decades and, in some areas, centuries?

In any case, there’s no going back. We are adapting our lives, reframing our perspectives and trying to prevent another occurrence as best we can.

Transit feels the pressure
Transportation providers, both in the air and on the ground, have been especially concerned about their vulnerability. In Associate Editor Alex Roman’s article, “5 Years Later: Securing Public Transit Post 9/11” transit officials in urban areas such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles describe their concerns about terrorism and relate their strategies to thwart or, failing that, to respond effectively to an attack.

Based on the responses to our annual GM survey (see “Funding Shortfalls Are Key Concern”), the most common security enhancement that transit systems have made in the wake of the 9/11 attacks is to bolster video surveillance on their buses (or railcars) and, in many cases, at their facilities.

This strategy makes sense for two reasons: one, it’s affordable for most transit systems, and, two, it has other uses beyond security. Video surveillance cameras can also be used to document criminal behavior on a bus or railcar and can be helpful in a crash, especially to determine exactly who was on the bus when the incident took place.

Another more expensive alternative that has been implemented by some systems is the expansion of their transit police force (or the addition of extra personnel by their contracted police agency). Putting more officers on patrol will certainly deter terrorists and other criminals. But it’s an expensive line item and tight budgets have precluded some agencies from implementing this strategy.

A much cheaper alternative is to deputize your customers. Many agencies have instituted a variation of New York City Transit’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign to encourage riders to identify and report suspicious items and people. This can be an effective program, but needs constant refreshing. Nothing loses its fizz more quickly than a safety campaign that hasn’t been updated in several months, or years.

Facilities are upgraded, too
In addition to elevating the security of their rolling stock and stations, many transit systems are “hardening” their main offices and maintenance yards. Many have added access-control systems to their buildings, while others have erected fences around their property.

I’m guessing that some transit properties have made other improvements to their security programs, but don’t want to share them publicly for, well, security reasons. That’s probably a wise strategy. If I ever find out what these security improvements are, I’ll be sure not to share them with you.

The challenge ahead will be to stay ahead of our enemies. They wish to revisit the terrain of 9/11, and we need to do everything feasible to spoil their efforts. The new normal is here to stay.

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