Mass Transit Security Force Multipliers

Passenger rail systems continually face threats posed by natural disasters and accidents, as well as terrorist attacks. According to a 2010 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) report, there have been more than 250 terrorist attacks against rail targets worldwide since 1995, collectively causing nearly 900 deaths and more than 6,000 injuries. Moreover, intelligence recovered in May 2011 from the Pakistani compound – where Osama bin Laden was killed by a U.S. Navy SEAL team – revealed additional plans for attacks against U.S. transit systems.

However, that type of threat is not new. In the past decade alone, there have been actual terrorist attacks against transit systems in Madrid (2004), London (2005), Mumbai (2006), and Moscow (2010), as well as threats of similar attacks against other major cities around the world. To combat such threats, the security plans of rail-based transit systems must constantly be reviewed, assessed, and significantly improved to enhance the response capabilities of the agencies, organizations, and personnel assigned the responsibility of guarding and protecting such systems.

More specifically, mass transit agencies must plan and prepare to cope with such attacks – from al Qaeda or its affiliates, radicalized home-grown terrorists, or even individual “lone-wolf” operators. Those same agencies must focus greater attention on such ancillary factors as the passenger capacity of transit systems, the known intentions of various terrorist groups, and the potential lethality of suspected attacks. Any threat-assessment strategies developed, however, would be incomplete without an ongoing training program designed especially for transit employees.

Such training requires building more than just frontline employee capacity. All transit system employees must be trained to recognize, identify, and report any suspicious activity that may indicate the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the near future. In short, the first line of defense for transit systems is having well-trained employees who can and will work together to identify and report any potential threats that their agencies might face.

Safety & Security – Raising the Bar

A comprehensive and effective security training program for employees is a crucial organizational vehicle for disseminating a corporate message to all employees. By preparing their employees with the additional skill sets needed, the transit agencies can address all of their security missions more effectively. Many agencies have already implemented security-oriented training requirements with targeted groups of employees – focusing particular attention on such skills and intelligence factors as situational awareness, behavior recognition, and immediate emergency response capabilities.

From a national point of view, the goal of improving the security posture of all U.S. rail security employees begins with the core security training developed and recommended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Among the principal “umbrella” topics covered in that training are: Terrorist Activity Recognition and Reaction; National Incident Management Systems (NIMS) for Transit Agencies; Chemical, Biological, Explosive, Radiological, and Nuclear Training and Incident Awareness; and a Response and Reaction Curriculum for Transit Systems.

This federal guidance, combined with improved organizational training requirements and plans, will provide an effective way to not only meet the training needs of both federal and mass-transit agencies but also to develop the most comprehensive and cost-effective schedules to enhance and upgrade the security skills and capabilities of all employees. However, in the current environment – in which new threats continually emerge – those same agencies must also continue to develop new training programs that build on the current programs to create a more robust curriculum. This type of planning will help an agency to: (a) preemptively respond to terrorist threats (and other dangers); and (b) use the new training programs themselves as the “building blocks” needed to move the agency and its employees to even higher levels of awareness and effectiveness.

Common Dangers & Senior-Level Solutions

The many common dangers that employees and agencies already face each and every day serve as continuing reminders of the occupational risks and hazards related to rail safety. For that reason, some rail agencies have not only strengthened their safety policies but also – to ensure compliance and avoid additional injuries and deaths – are vigorously training their employees on the particulars of those policies.

Similarly, the security training needed to guard against other potential threats should be a major corporate responsibility and explicitly elevated to the same level of importance to better protect both the agency and its employees. In some agencies, however, the issuance of an explicit corporate mandate may require the creation of a collaboratively based and designated training oversight group at the senior management level, thus bridging the gap between the agency’s goals and the willingness of employees to help attain those goals.

The training decisions made at the senior management level should be designed to help those managers themselves, and/or their second-level designees, engage in an integrated cross-departmental setting to ensure that the approaches and mandates are consistent with one another. If such training is intended for implementation across an entire organization and/or several departments, there also should be a guiding body available – and empowered to support the framework needed – to implement an organizational mandate and work with employees at all levels of the organization.

Included in the guiding body should be a diverse and well-qualified course-development team that would work together – across all departments – to plan, design, create, and deliver the training needed throughout the organization. To ensure a cohesive security training message that is not only consistent with organizational goals but also adds an additional degree of corporate confidence, that team probably should include a number of the current departmental trainers. The ultimate goal is to bolster organizational engagement and to synchronize and strengthen the corporate approach through mandated security training and development for all employees.

Finally, although there are a number of strategies available to meet security training goals, the immediate priority for most agencies should be to continuously assess security training needs. Annual or more frequent formal reviews of existing training catalogues – specifically including information relevant to team training and course resources – will help ensure that employees receive the most appropriate types of training, at the levels both needed and specified. Use of this approach also will help ensure that current training sessions, and overall training programs, are consistent with the organization’s short- and long-range planning goals.

As the nation’s mass-transit agencies review, revise, and implement their security training strategies – particularly those that enhance employees’ understanding of the compelling need to cope with and mitigate security threats – it is especially important to maintain a flexible and systematic approach. Those threats are in a constant state of change and are likely to be so for the foreseeable future. For that reason alone, the strategies for coping with such threats, and developing the capabilities needed to ensure a successful outcome, should be able to change just as quickly and effectively.


For additional information on: The 2010 TSA Report on Preparedness for Mass Transit and Passenger Rail Emergencies, visit

The TSA/FTA “Mass Transit and Passenger Rail Security” initiatives, visit

Douglas McDaniel

Douglas McDaniel brings 18 years of leadership, management, and public service experience to his role as Assistant Director of Emergency Management. In this position, he serves as program manager for the development and maintenance of all George Mason University emergency plans, procedures, and related university policies. Douglas joined George Mason from Frederick Community College (FCC), where he served as Academic Program Manager for Emergency Management Programs. As part of his responsibilities, Douglas oversaw the management of emergency management degree programs and provided expertise in the development of college emergency preparedness plans. Douglas holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from South University and a Master of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management from the American Military University. He is also International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Certified Emergency Manager (CEM).



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