Can Electronic Security Prevent Transit Terror?

LONDON — When passengers boarded London’s buses and subway the morning of July 7, they probably had little thought that they would be the latest innocent casualties in the war on terror. Four suicide bombers took the lives of 52 and injured more than 1,000 in the bombings of three subway trains and a double-decker bus.

Not only did Great Britain receive its version of 9/11, so did every transit authority in the free world. The question now arises what role electronic security can have in preventing or even stopping another transit terror strike like London.

The unfortunate answer is not all that much.

“There are some things in the security world where you have to accept the risk. Mass transportation is one of those,” says security system design consultant Roy Bordes, president and CEO of The Bordes Group Inc. “The hard one is the rail system. The issue is how do you protect open rails. It’s almost impossible. It’s hard to have enough security. That’s not a good answer but that’s the answer.”

An airport-style screening solution just isn’t very feasible. There are more stations in most subway systems than there are international airports in the world, not to mention the numbers of stops on a bus route. Add to that the mammoth amount of vehicles in a typical bus and rail system and the security challenge proves more daunting than climbing Mount Everest in tennis shoes.

There also seems little anyone can do to prevent a suicide bomber disguised as an innocent-looking bus passenger with a backpack from causing another act of terror. Save the impossibly expensive proposition of screening all rail and bus passengers, the most electronic security can do is identify the suicide bombers after the act has already been committed. Such was the case in London.

“We’ve been so fortunate in this country, knock on wood, to have never had suicide bomber,” Bordes, who also serves as a security expert for the Fox News Channel, says. “If we start getting hit with suicide bombers, we’re in deep doo doo.”

It doesn’t have to be a terrorist that causes terror on the track. A man with a death wish parked his truck on the tracks of Los Angeles’ Metrolink commuter rail system Jan. 26. The resulting collision left 11 dead and 180 injured.

Despite the bleak picture, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel for transit security. There are still plenty of ways electronic security can play a role in securing the rails.

“You can protect the tunnels. You can put in infrared cameras and motion detection. A camera system can trigger an alarm to alert train engineers that someone has been seen on the track,” Bordes says. “There’s an electronic solution to the problem, but you still have to live with all the nuisance alarms you’ll get with that.”

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