Management & Operations

Russian roulette, anyone?

Posted on April 9, 2007 by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

The news from Iraq is filled with reports of suicide bombers killing eight, 10, 23, 37 and even 50 people, seemingly on a daily basis. These headlines are so frequent and unrelenting that we’ve become almost numb to the horrific loss of life being registered in that part of the world.

But we can’t allow ourselves to believe that those attacks are there and couldn’t be here. It’s just not true. We know from transit bomb attacks in London, Madrid and Mumbai, India, that extremists are capable and willing to attack targets outside the Middle East.

And yet we somehow aren’t convinced that it will actually happen here. If we were, we’d be doing more to improve our defenses and emergency response preparedness. We’d be reinvigorating our public awareness programs that urge our customers to report any suspicious packages or people. And, most importantly, the federal government would be providing transit properties with a helluva lot more security funding.

President Bush’s proposed FY 2008 budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes only $175 million for transit security funding. This is woefully short of what the transit industry requires to take the necessary steps to protect its customers.

Reason for optimism
But help may be on the way. With the Democrats now in control of the House and Senate, there seems to be a greater urgency in tightening the security of transit systems. As Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chair of the Senate Banking and Urban Affairs Committee, put it recently in USA Today, “Commuters shouldn’t have to play Russian roulette when they get on the train in the morning.” (I would add bus passengers to that scenario too.)

Dodd’s committee approved a measure that would make $3.5 billion available to shore up transit security over the next three years. That’s not quite the $6 billion that APTA has identified as an adequate sum to get the job done, but it would be a good start.

Meanwhile, the House’s Homeland Security Committee recently discussed legislation to address transit security. Key elements of its plan include bolstered training for transit employees and increased passenger screening.

Serious commitment needed
The key to our success in preventing the type of attack that seems to occur daily in Iraq will be the assumption that such an attack is imminent — and that it is preventable. The notion that these attacks cannot be prevented is self-defeating. We’re not talking about the weather, which heeds no one’s complaints. We’re talking about the safety of the millions of people who use our transit systems daily and rely on us to provide the highest level of protection that we can.

With the new Congress taking a stronger stance on transit security funding, we should take advantage of opportunities to make our voices heard. We need to make it clear to our leaders in Washington, D.C., that our obligation to protect our customers and our employees is not something we take lightly. Let your representatives know that now is the time to push for increased DHS funding.

The steps we take now to bolster the security of public transportation will discourage our enemies from attempting attacks and minimize the casualties if an attack should be carried out.

As of this writing, I’m heading to the APTA Legislative Conference in D.C., and hope to be able to report advancements on the transit security front in our next issue. Stay tuned.

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