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Mass transit not immune to terrorism

(The following article by Larry Higgs was posted on the Asbury Park Press website on September 21.)

TRENTON, N.J. -- There is no one solution to making commuter trains, buses or highways immune to the types of terrorist attacks made on London's Underground transit system or Madrid's commuter trains, said a Rutgers University security expert Tuesday.

Instead, it will take a multifaceted approach involving transit system operators, policy makers, employees and passengers to enhance security and deter terrorists from such attacks, said Chris Kozub, associate director of the National Transportation Institute Safety and Security Program. The institute is part of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers.

"There are things that transit systems can do and have to do better," Kozub said at the Statehouse. "The biggest challenge is to create an approach to system security. We can't look at a transit system like a shopping mall, chemical plant or airport."

Deploying a heavy police presence only in major terminals is employing security too late in the game, he said.

North Jersey Coast Line commuter Bill Perkins of Fair Haven agreed and said he only sees a police presence at Hoboken or New York, but nothing between those terminals and the Red Bank station.

"I'd like to see a sporadic police presence on the train," Perkins said. "I understand they can't have a person on every train. Every once in a while, I'd like to see an NJ Transit officer walk through the train with a dog."

More attention needs to be paid to suburban stations, Kozub said. He cited the Madrid, Spain, commuter train bombings in March 2004 as an example, where backpacks containing explosives were put on trains at outlying stations and timed to detonate later in busy terminals, Kozub said. Security is needed throughout the system, he said.

A terrorist is more likely to board a train at a park-and-ride in Monmouth, Somerset or Hunterdon counties, where commuters and authorities aren't watching, Kozub said.

"Commuters are more focused on their Wall Street Journal and coffee. A couple of passengers get on with backpacks, and when the train gets full, they slip off," Kozub said. "A half an hour later the train arrives at Penn Station, Newark. The (transit) system just delivered the weapon to ground zero."

Perkins, who worked across the street from the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said he supports more random searches of passengers and would like to see them conducted at varying times of the day. He suggested NJ Transit make its phone number to report anything suspicious easy to remember and quick to dial, like 911.

A combination of rapid response to an incident and random searches can work as deterrents, because terrorists won't carry out an attack unless they can guarantee a certain level of success, Kozub said. Profiling people based on race or ethnicity doesn't work, he said.

"There is no historical basis that profiling works in any form," Kozub said, citing the Oklahoma City bombing by domestic terrorists. "It may work in Jerusalem, but not in Trenton or New York. We are a culturally diverse country and don't have just one enemy."

He also said photo bans on transit systems are not effective, since many cell phones have cameras. NJ Transit officials are considering a policy to limit photography on the system.

"There are no proven results to say it would make the system more secure," Kozub said.

Kozub said security needs to be addressed in several facets. Front-line transit employees need to be trained on how to spot and report suspicious objects and people, and passengers should be encouraged to do the same. Technology should be used, but officials and riders should understand devices such as cameras and chemical sensors are not an ultimate solution to prevent an attack.

"What we learned is technology isn't a be all and end all, a system of security is important," he said.

The National Transportation Institute's Safety and Security Program has trained 200,000 transit workers throughout the nation, including those on NJ Transit, PATH and PATCO systems.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

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