Public Transportation on Guard
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MARGARET WARNER: Now the challenges of protecting mass transit systems here at home. For that we’re joined by Asa Hutchinson, the former undersecretary of homeland security, and Jim Jordan, assistant general manager for safety with the Transit Authority for Philadelphia and its suburbs, known as SEPTA. And welcome, to you both.
Secretary Hutchinson, beginning with you, how vulnerable are American mass transit systems to attacks like these?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well they historically have been vulnerable because our mass transit systems were built with convenience in mind, easy access, speed and without regard to security. And they’ve been in existence for decades and decades, and so it takes time to reverse that trend.
Today, they’re much more secure than they were prior to 9/11, prior to the Madrid attack, because of layered security measures from surveillance cameras to greater law enforcement presence, but as long as we have the open systems, there’s going to be vulnerabilities, and we have to increase the security measures step by step and invest more.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Jordan, you are involved with one of those older systems in Philadelphia. What are the specific vulnerabilities other than it’s open and people can pretty much get on the train at will?
JIM JORDAN: And that is the fundamental problem that it is open. We encourage people to come on to our system, but I agree with the secretary. Our system, like systems in other cities, was built 100 years ago, 80 years ago.
We have poor sight lines, poor visibility, plenty of places to hide bags, potential explosives. And as the secretary said, we — since 9/11 have been adding layers of protection and security, but you just can’t do it overnight.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we get into the measures that have been taken, Mr. Jordan, when you are looking at buses, trains and say commuter rails, how you would you assess the degree of risk on those three or the difficulty of protecting? Are they all about the same or are some worse than others?
JIM JORDAN: Unfortunately, given that these cowards are looking to inflict the maximum human cost, our subways are the most vulnerable because there you have the densest concentration of people in a small area in a tunnel at rush hour. The commuter rail cars are much heavier and buses have not been a prime target outside of I think Israel because this present batch of terrorists is looking for maximum impact and buses don’t hold as many people as subways.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Hutchinson, we don’t know yet – as we know we don’t know yet in London whether this was — these were suicide bombers or these were like the Madrid bombings where packages were left to be detonated by remote. But let me ask you the same kind of a comparative question. Is it easier or harder to defend against one kind of attack than the other?
ASA HUTCHINSON: They’re different. Both are challenging, but whenever you look at a suicide bomber, you’re looking at explosive detection, canine dogs. They’re probably more difficult because that person is not trying to flee and leave something.
In contrast to someone who plants a bomb, that raises more suspicion; there’s more opportunity to do the detection, but you still have to rely upon the same surveillance, the same law enforcement presence; canine teams make a huge difference there, so a little bit different strategies than probably a suicide bomber. Anytime someone’s willing to take their own life it presents enormous challenges.
MARGARET WARNER: And Secretary Hutchinson, so what measures were added to U.S. transit systems after 9/11 and then again Secretary (Michael) Chertoff suggested today after Madrid they were stepped up even more.
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, after 9/11, the transit systems naturally enhanced their own security local through their local investments and various means from surveillance cameras to increased patrols but then after Madrid, for the first time in history, we set a federal standard; security directives were issued that took the best practices, what were commonsense approaches to security in a mass transit environment, and said this is what everybody should be doing.
And that included surveillance cameras were checked, having a security coordinator for each system that could communicate with homeland security. We had canine teams that were available and you had bomb proof receptacles or taking those out of systems at certain times. So these things were put into place, and then when you go to orange like today, you can elevate those, put in a higher level of security.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Jordan, what did Philadelphia do both after 9/11 and then after Madrid and to harden those targets?
JIM JORDAN: The very steps the secretary was talking about, we participated with the Department of Homeland Security in two intensive security reviews; we’ve changed our deployment, more specifically by rush hour this morning we had increased our police presence in our inner city area and had deployed our canine department, which includes dogs which are trained in explosive detection.
Among other areas, we’ve improved our communication abilities with the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and other regional law enforcement agencies. Those I think are our major steps.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Jordan, how are transit workers from bus drivers to people who work on the subway or in subway stations, what special training do they get now?
JIM JORDAN: What we have found both for our colleagues and for our customers is to get the word out that if they see anything they believe to be suspicious, to report it; report it to our police department or to a uniformed SEPTA official. And that allows highly trained police officers to respond and assess the situation. We don’t want civilians taking action in what could potentially be a dangerous situation.
MARGARET WARNER: And just to follow up on that, for instance, would a bus driver have the authority to refuse admission to someone who wanted to get on whom he thought looked or acted suspicious, or would he have to call law enforcement?
JIM JORDAN: He would have that authority but even better, he can send undetectable emergency messages to our police department requesting assistance and we can get that assistance provided either by our police or by Philadelphia police in a matter of a few moments.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Hutchinson, what would you add to that in terms of the way personnel are trained now?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, we need to enhance that. Philadelphia has done a good job. Other transit systems have not been as aggressive in that, and so that training needs to be increased but not just to the transit workers but also to the public in general.
Announcements are made over the loud speaker alerting the public to be aware of bags that are left unattended. These need to be expanded because the public awareness, the public involvement, is a key ability to deter and to detect.
MARGARET WARNER: And Secretary Hutchinson, if more money – well, first of all, do you think that mass transit, ground transit has been given somewhat short shift in the funding area compared to say airlines and, two, if mass transit could spend a lot more money, where would it best be used?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, the last part of the question where it should be used is technology. We should not look at the same solution that we put in the aviation arena for all the modes of transportation.
Let’s get something that is consistent with the openness of the system; quick movement of people and technology has to be the answer there. And so I think that’s where the investment has to go is in new technologies as well as increased training. But there are significant challenges.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you agree with some critics who say – I hate to quote unnamed critics – but that, in fact, there has not been enough money put into this?
ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, in contrast to aviation, certainly there’s an imbalance there, but I think that we have to invest more. I think the question is who all contributes to that? The federal government, I think, put out $200 million in the transit systems as well as the literally billions of dollars that go into the urban area security grant programs for the local municipalities to utilize. And then they invest as well.
So it’s a shared responsibility. And we have to continue to invest. But what we learned with all of the money that flowed to the states after 9/11 is that if you do it unwisely, it can be wasted. We’re talking about taxpayer’s money here so we have to invest carefully and look for a unique solution that works in the mass transit environment.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Asa Hutchinson and Jim Jordan, thank you both.
JIM JORDAN: Thank you.
ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you.