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Transit aides want direction on safety help

(The following article by Eric Lipton was posted on the New York Times website on July 26.)

WASHINGTON -- The top transit security officials from New York, Los Angeles and Washington told a House panel on Tuesday that more federal money was not their only urgent need. They were desperate, they said, for advice on which of the dozens of antiterrorism devices that companies were trying to sell them actually worked.

"There are a lot of snake-oil salesmen, and they are calling on us every day," said Polly Hanson, chief of police for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. "There needs to be a list of federal standards, and they can't come out after you have bought all the equipment."

The most obvious example, the officials said, is the variety of supposedly bomb-resistant trash cans that companies are offering transit authorities. The Department of Homeland Security has told mass transit systems that, in certain sensitive areas, they should use only clear plastic bags or buy special hardened cans.

Paul J. Lennon, director of intelligence and emergency preparedness management for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles, said that only after buying about 100 of these special trash cans, at about $1,500 each, did tests by local officials show that the cans might not be safe to use in certain underground locations.

More guidance from the federal government is obviously needed, William A. Morange, director of security for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said.

"We really don't know if they work, or if they don't work," Mr. Morange said of the small inventory of bomb-resistant trash cans that New York authorities bought in the late 1990's.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, said part of the problem was that the Department of Homeland Security was months' late in delivering a federal plan for coordinating transit security.

"We don't have a national transit security plan for America," Mr. Thompson said. "We have to have some national standards to go by."

The transit security executives told the House Select Committee on Homeland Security that they would like more federal money to train employees - not just police officers - in how to identify potential terrorists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

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