Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ottawa subway security: Is it an issue?

A few months ago, the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies, a research unit out of Carleton University, blogged about the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT) as a potential "target of interest" for terrorism, and wondered what kind of research has been done to mitigate the potential risks.
[Subway systems] are large and very long enclosed spaces, contain large numbers of people in close proximity to each other at specific locations, are difficult to protect due to the high number of vulnerable points of access, and, [sic] can be used to magnify the effects of any explosions as the subways run under buildings and other structures that may also be high value targets. The construction of all new transportation systems, such as the proposed Light Rail Tunnel (LRT) in downtown Ottawa, need to be assessed ahead of time with respect to their requirements for critical infrastructure protection.
I don't recall where, but I do recall security being mentioned perviously: When a route across downtown was being selected, concerns were raised about a possible line under Wellington Street due to the proximity of the Parliament Buildings and other federal government buildings right on the street, including the Supreme Court building and the Langevin Block, to name a few. Eventually, a cross-downtown route under Albert and Slater was chosen; whether the security concerns factored into that or not, I'm not sure.

Last month, USA Today looked at security for subway and rail, and found that the systems were extremely vulnerable--and also concluded that that situation would be difficult to reverse even if there were an appetite to do so (which, apparently, there isn't). From USA Today:
"Amtrak functions in a very open and, therefore, porous transportation environment," spokesman Steve Kulm says. "Because of advantages such as easy access, convenient locations and intermodal connections, rail and mass transit systems are completely different from the structure and organization of the airline transportation and airport industry."

A July report by the Government Accountability Office says high ridership, expensive infrastructure, economic importance and location in large metropolitan areas or tourist destinations also make passenger rail systems "attractive targets for terrorists."


Perhaps the only way to make subway and rail cars secure is to screen every passenger similar to what the TSA and its 50,000 screeners and some private contractors do at airports.


But security analysts say screening all subway and rail passengers is impractical and too costly. And the [U.S. Transportation Security Administration] "is not considering" requiring it, the agency said in a written response to USA TODAY questions.

"Mass transit systems in the U.S. are vast, a literal black hole," says James Carafano, a homeland security expert at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. "They would consume every cent we spend on homeland security, and there still would be vast vulnerabilities."

Brian Jenkins, security research director for the Mineta Transportation Institute, which is funded by Congress and researches transportation policy issues, estimates that it costs $8 to $10 to screen a single passenger. "If you add that cost to a subway fare, it would destroy public transportation," Jenkins says.
No doubt it will have to be a consideration moving forward; how far do you think the city can or should go in securing the DOTT?

1 comment:

RealGrouchy said...

I think this kind of talk (i.e. warning people of constructed dangers of using the subway because of terrorism) is not only tautological, but terroristic itself.

Read up on Dan Gardner's stuff, like his book Risk. Given the rate of collisions by motorists, if everyone currently using public transit were to switch to driving a car (assuming the roads magically handled that capacity), the amount of injury and death would be far greater than any terrorist attacks.

A terrorist can pretty much walk right up to the Peace Tower with a big bomb in his pack and set it off. Why would someone aiming to cause havoc bother bombing a ten-storey-deep tunnel instead?

Coming from the other direction, our existing bus transit system not only could be, but has been easily disabled by someone jumping in front of it (remember that time a collision with a pedestrian backed up the Transitway for kilometres), or by roadwork (on Elgin by Bell Canada), or by a snowstorm (the artic-killing storm of 2005).

So we could say that by engaging in this type of talk, the terrorists have won, but really the weather beat them to it.


- RG>