Report: Mass transit needs more surveillance

Mass transit systems can better guard against terrorism by deploying more closed-circuit video and television surveillance systems at stations and within tunnels and fixed facilities, according to a new report from the Washington-based Center for American Progress.

The report, written by 9/11 Commission staff member Bill Johnstone, urges the Bush administration to provide substantially more funding for mass transit security ? not just for improved surveillance capabilities, but also to sustain a greater police presence, accelerate the development of explosive substance detectors and incorporate security into future transit system design.

"Since transit systems are so open, perfect transit security is not possible, but better security most assuredly is," Johnstone wrote in the report.

Despite commuter rail terrorist attacks in Madrid in April 2004 and in London last month, the federal government is spending only about $38 million a year on transit security through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and about $150 million annually through the Homeland Security Department.

Johnstone recommends at least $1.2 billion a year in federal funding as a "good place to start."

He rebuts Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's assertion to the Associated Press last month that a mass transit attack by extremists would kill only about 30 people. "This is wrong. Consistent with al-Qaeda's strategic objectives, an attack on a major metropolitan transit hub ? would easily threaten thousands of lives," Johnstone wrote.

The report urges DHS to complete a comprehensive transportation security strategy immediately, increase funding for security measures and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the FTA, Transportation Security Administration and other federal entities in transit security.

A related transit security report, written by Professor Brian D. Taylor of the University of California at Los Angeles and also published by the center on Wednesday, suggests the federal government should play a lead role in coordinating security standards for mass transit systems across the country with respect to training, security audits and disaster preparedness procedures. In addition, rail agencies must be much better coordinated with law-enforcement agencies.

The greatest terrorist threats to mass transit are most likely asymmetrical and are focused on the largest rail systems in major cities such as New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Tokyo rather than smaller mass transit systems throughout the world, the report said.

Transit agencies have been adopting multipronged security strategies?including policing, technology, education, outreach and environmental design?to improve security since 9/11, but much more needs to be done, Taylor wrote.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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