Heavy transit security costs hit N.J. hard

(The following article by Larry Higgs was circulated by Gannett News Service on September 2.)

NEWARK -- Money is the biggest weapon needed to keep transportation systems secure from terrorism, and billions of dollars have been spent by New Jersey and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But experts said that while progress has been made in five years, more needs to be done, and that depends on more funding -- specifically, from the federal government.

A whopping $2.3 billion has been spent on security by the Port Authority since the attacks. A total of $28 million has been spent on transportation security in New Jersey by NJ Transit and the state Department of Transportation, working in conjunction with the State Police, said transportation commissioner Kris Kolluri.

"The goal is to continue to be vigilant to protect the motorist and the commuter," Kolluri said. "We've done a good job so far, but it will take more resources, and that responsibility falls in with the federal government."

Kolluri praised the state's congressional delegation for lobbying for more federal security money, but said its arguments have fallen on deaf ears.

Test programs

Port Authority facilities have hosted federal Homeland Security test programs of equipment, such as black boxes for shipping containers and screening systems for rail passengers. But the majority of security funding is paid for by the people who drive through the agency's tunnels and bridges, use the airports or ride PATH trains, said Marc LaVorgna, a Port Authority spokesman. An estimated 90 percent of Port Authority security costs are paid by the agency's revenues and theremainder by the federal government, he said.

"We'd certainly like to see more support, being we protect some of the most iconic pieces of infrastructure in the world -- the George Washington Bridge, World Trade Center and three major airports,"LaVorgna said. "It's hard to imagine such big targets being ignored by the federal government."

Since 2001, New Jersey has increased the ranks of uniformed and plainclothes NJ Transit police by 75 percent, deployed K-9 bomb detection teams, installed vehicular inspection points at major terminals, conducted random bag checks of riders, installed cameras, motion detectors and other electronic surveillance and conducted ground and air patrols of bridges and other infrastructure, Kolluri said.

At the airports and ports, increased security is measured by the presence of more Port Authority police patrolling, making random vehicle checks and adding more electronicsurveillance and cameras, LaVorgna said. The cost of providing security at the three major airports alone costs $2.3 million a week, excluding federal screeners, he said.

Coming to Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Teterboro airports is a $139 million perimeter intrusion detection system, identical to one used by the U.S. military to protect Baghdad Airport. It's being installed now and is scheduled to be in operation by 2008, LaVorgna said.

The detection system creates a security net around the airport perimeter by using sensors, radar, video motion detectors, thermal imaging and television cameras, connected to a central alarm monitoring center at each airport and a central facility, LaVorgna said.

"We can export video to first responders in a vehicle, where they would see a video or thermal image," LaVorgna said.

Port security

Port security, while not as visible, is equally important to keep the flow of goods -- from consumer products to fuel oil --flowing into the region, experts said.

"The needs are great, and we feel like we're running in a race with one leg. We want to catch up with the aviation industry,"said Tom Barnes, director of operations for the maritime security laboratory at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. "The real issue ... is funding."

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, improvements in port security have been the basics, such as installing cameras, putting up fences, hiring security employees and using higher technology systems. These include the Coast Guard's tracking system, which locates every vessel in the harbor simultaneously, Barnes said.

"We've just scratched the surface of investments needed," Barnes said. "The last time anyone significantly worried about maritime security was World War II."

A test is under way of a "black box" system for cargo containers by the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Port Authority, LaVorgna said. The black box has sensors that indicate whether the doors have been opened and whether there are traces of radiation or other hazardous materials present --including biological agents.

"It provides immediate information, and if the container has been breached or if an anomaly is detected," he said.

Stevens is working with the Navy on an experimental system being tested in the Hudson River to track and predict harbor environmental conditions, which could be used in conjunction with a sensor system to guard against an underwater threat, Barnes said.

A human can't swim against a current of four knots or greater, and by determining locations in the harbor where water is moving at that speed, other areas can be monitored for underwater activity by terrorists, Barnes said.

Mass transit

Mass transit systems started addressing security issues after the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, said Chris Kozub, associate director of the National Transit Institute at Rutgers University.

"The transit industry began considering what those ramifications of an event like that in this country would mean to the system," Kozub said.

The job is difficult because like roads and bridges, transit systems are open to the public. Transit agencies have to respond to specific threats and implement preventive measures, such as cameras, motion detectors, police patrols and training of employees and riders, Kozub said.

"There is no one answer. It's not technology and procedures alone," Kozub said.

"Transit systems need to protect themselves, be aware and alert every day. If someone is looking to do something, they'll look for that one weak spot to maximize vulnerability."

Funding hurdle

But funding remains a hurdle here, too, with more federal money going to aviation, even though more people use surface transportation, he said.

"The political and bureaucratic reaction is more focused on aviation than surface transportation," Kozub said. "There is a greater risk for loss of life and economic loss that could be tied to an event, such as London, Madrid or Tokyo."

State homeland security works with the Port Authority, the Turnpike Authority, the DOT and NJ Transit to assess vulnerability, specific threats and risks, said Richard Canas, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

One thing that has improved since the Sept. 11 attacks is the sharing of information between federal and state agencies, he said.

"We're going to put our focus on a risk-based formula and threat vulnerability," Canas said. "We can't search every car. We can put our resources where there is a specific threat."

Except for a terrorist threat against the Prudential building in Newark in 2004, Canas declined to name other New Jersey infrastructure against which specific threats have been made.

Rail system

Increased security of passenger and freight rail systems also is a priority.

"The main thing we're focused on is training for passenger and (freight) rail security," Canas said. "We need to harden some of the rail yards in the state, and that needs to happen right away."

The job has no end point and is ongoing, based on specific threats and events around the world, such as the bombing of commuter trains in India and Spain and subways in London, experts said.

"There is no milestone we'll get to. We will never install a procedure or equipment and say, 'We're done,'" Kozub said.

"It is something that law enforcement, operations and management people have to look at every day and week, modify it and upgrade countermeasures."

Tuesday, September 5, 2006


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