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first responders

Bay Area security project hits snag


SAN JOSE, Calif.—Many municipalities around the country have taken steps to ensure that communication networks are properly integrated so first responders, law enforcement and fire departments can communicate during a disaster.

NYPD increasingly relies on video in subways

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I am a huge fan of public transportation, but subways freak me out. It's a combination of too many people in a small place mixed with traveling several stories underground. Plus, this job hasn't helped at all. It's made me all too aware of security threats (to the point that I check my shower stall when I come home, just to make sure someone didn't break in and is hiding in there. Is that paranoia? It might be, but you trying being a single female living alone on the first floor).

Anyway, I'm always on guard in subways, and apparently for good reason. This New York Daily News article found that the NYPD requested surveillance footage from NYC Transit more than 2,000 times last year.

There are now more than 3,100 cameras installed throughout the subways, with 900 of them just installed this June. Plus, there are more cameras on the way. The MTA said 1,000 more will be installed by the end of next year.

While the article found that crime in the subway is at a historically low level, with less than six felonies a day in the 468-station system, it still makes me nervous. Video surveillance, as those in the industry know, can be great forensic tools (if they're properly installed and working correctly, which all too often they are not). But, because those cameras are often not monitored, they contribute little to preventing crime. And frankly, that's what I'm looking for. And with that in mind, I'd say it's probably a good thing for me to stay here in Maine where we're forced to just drive everywhere.

GAO report finds there may be too many agencies securing public transit

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Securing our nation's mass transit systems seems like a nearly impossible task and there's certainly no silver bullet for protecting the traveling public. A new report issued by the Government Accountability Office in July found that there are a number of promising explosives detection technologies out there, but also noted there are serious limitations that need to be addressed for proper deployment in a rail environment.

The report found that handheld, desktop, and kit-based trace detection systems, x-ray imaging systems, as well as the use of canines, are all technologies that have demonstrated good detection capabilities, but did not recommend any of these technologies specifically.

One of the concerns in securing ground transportation is passenger flow. It's fairly understood that passengers on New York's subway system, for example, are not going to tolerate major interruptions of their commute. Therefore, the government needs to find technologies that can detect explosives, but do not impede on passenger flow. For this, the GAO recommends the development of a concept of operations that "would help balance security with the need to maintain the efficient and free flowing movement of people. A concept of operations could include a response plan for how rail employees should react to an alarm when a particular technology detects an explosive."

The GAO also reported that in implementing these technologies and policies there are possibly too many organizations involved in this effort:

While there is a shared responsibility for securing the passenger rail environment, the federal government, including TSA, and passenger rail operators have differing roles, which could complicate decisions to fund and implement explosives detection technologies. For example, TSA provides guidance and some funding for passenger rail security, but rail operators themselves provide day-to-day-security of their systems.

TSA seems to be taking a bigger role in securing surface transportation. Secretary Napolitano recently announced the agency (and its new head) will focus more of its efforts on securing mass transit. It recently launched a national "See Something, Say Something" campaign, but no specifics on the technology side.

A security travesty: Officers watch girl get beat

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I am so disturbed and shocked by this article that I had to share it. KOMO News out of Seattle is reporting that a 15-year-old girl was viciously attacked in the Seattle Downtown Bus Tunnel while nearby security guards stood by and watched. According to the article, the officers said they are restricted by the transit authority's policy that restricts them from intervening in such situations. While these officers did radio for police assistance, they allowed the attack to happen.

Disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.

First of all, I'm sure these officers were following the letter of the law and I'm sure that, politically, that policy is there to protect the agency from liability. But, this scenario is incredibly damaging to the public's confidence. It sends the message that security is worthless, they're just bystanders and unable to offer any additional support and have no authority beyond the average citizen (except to ticket or fine you). As a matter of fact, they're actually restricted from helping people. I bet there's a lot of citizens out there who, if they had witnessed this situation, would've jumped in to stop it.

And, worse yet, this policy is actually causing a false sense of security. When I see someone in uniform, I assume that if something were to happen, they would help. That's their job, right?

As a result of this incident, the agency is considering changing it's policy. No kidding, huh? They're also debating whether or not to change a similar policy restricting bus drivers from intervening. Here's a similar crazy situation:

Two years ago, a bus driver wrestled a gunman to the ground and held him until police came. "Metro's reaction was to threaten to suspend the driver for intervening, while at the same time the police department and the county council were putting together awards for this gentleman," said Paul Bachtel, president of Metro Bus Driver's Union, Local 587. "Metro quickly backed off, but did put a letter in his file advising him not to intervene in the future."

However, I think there's a big difference between allowing bus drivers to intervene and security officers. Bus drivers are just suppose to drive the bus and shouldn't be charged with mitigating situations - that's security's job. Therefore, it's pretty important for the transit authority to give security the power to act, don't you think? Good grief, who's in charge here?

Transit agencies: Tis the season for applications

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's that time of year, transit friends. The Department of Homeland Security just announced today that it has released application guidance for the Transit Security Grant Program totaling an estimated $253 million.

TSGP awards funds to owners and operators of transit systems—including intercity bus, commuter bus, ferries and all forms of passenger rail—based on their capabilities to reduce risk through training, operational deterrence, drills and public awareness activities; key critical infrastructure and asset protection; and other mitigation activities.

The fiscal year 2010 guidance announced by Secretary Napolitano aims to reduce administrative paperwork for state and local government, and enabled local jurisdictions to use preparedness funding for ongoing maintenance contracts, warranties, repair or replacement costs, upgrades and user fees for equipment purchased with previous DHS grants. So not only can this money go towards capital improvement projects, but it can actually be used to replace and/or maintain the systems you have in place. That's huge.

Deadline: Feb. 18, 2010
- so you best get your application-groove on.

What if dangerous chemicals were released in a subway?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ever since I watched that National Geographic special about a dirty bomb drill that took place here in Portland, Maine, chemical security has been on the top of my brain. If this device was currently available for my cell phone, I may even splurge on it (or ask Santa for it anyway).

No, not really. I'm not that concerned about some wacko releasing chemicals in a public space UNLESS, of course, I lived in a major city and relied on public transportation to get me around. Many a time during my various visits to Boston and New York, I've thought, as I walk several stories under the ground to catch the subway, that it would be really scary if something happened down here. Talk about claustrophobia.

Really, I'm not that paranoid of a person (well, only slightly more than before I began this job), but apparently I'm not the only one who shares these concerns. I just read this article about the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority working with DHS to test how airborne contaminants might spread through Boston's subway system.

A team of 30 scientists is releasing harmless, odorless tracer gases and an aerosol - a particle that behaves differently than a gas - in two dozen MBTA stations and subway cars to see where and how fast they travel.

The information collected from this test will help DHS and the MBTA know which trains they need to shut down and how to evacuate people in the event of an attack, a fire or a chemical spill, according to the article. It will also help them develop new equipment to detect contaminants. Good to know I'm not the only one who thinks about these things and even better to know there's folks out there actually doing something about it.

Transit police officer used excessive force?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I just read this CNN article about the investigation of a police officer from the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in California after he arrested a passenger who was visibly intoxicated. Based on video taken by a fellow passenger, the officer certainly uses some force and actually shatters a glass window during the scuffle. However, the article points out that it's not clear what caused the glass to shatter, although from the video it does look like the guy's head probably had something to do with it. Here's the video so you can see for yourself:

BART officers have not had a lot of good publicity lately. An officer is currently facing charges after he shot an unarmed man at a transit station on January 1. That incident was also caught on video and prompted widespread media coverage and protests, reports CNN.