Terror on Mass Transit

Terror on Mass Transit

Executive summary from research project led by Professor Loukaitou-Sideris, with collaborators from the Urban Planning faculty at UCLA and the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at UC Berkeley, aims to study terrorist attacks on rail and subway systems around the world with the goal of designing stations that are less vulnerable to bomb or gas attacks.

Public transit systems around the world have for decades served as a principal venue for terrorist acts. While the most significant of these attacks – such as the Sarin gas attack in Tokyo or the bombing of the Paris Metro – garnered worldwide public attention during the 1990s, response in the U.S. was generally muted. This all changed, of course, on September 11 th, 2001.

While the focus of the 9-11 attacks was on a different part of the transportation system, the effects on the affected public transit systems were dramatic and, in the case of New York, long-lasting. The vulnerability of open, accessible public transit systems and their passengers to terrorist acts was cast in sharpest possible relief. Concern over the vulnerability of transit systems was heightened further by the recent, deadly March 11 th, 2004 attacks on commuter rail trains in Madrid, Spain.

Today, transit security is widely viewed as an important public policy issue, and is a high priority at most large transit systems and at smaller systems operating in large metropolitan areas. Research on transit security in the U.S. has mushroomed since 9-11; this study is part of that new wave of research.

This study contributes to our understanding of transit security by employing a wide array of approaches and methods to examine a complicated issue: How can transit managers better protect their systems and passengers from terrorist attacks?

To address this question we:

  1. Reviewed and synthesized nearly all previous published research on transit terrorism, and updated previous efforts to systematically chronicle previous terrorist attacks on transit systems around the globe.
  2. Conducted detailed case studies of transit systems in London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Washington, DC that have experienced terrorist attacks. These case studies involved reviews of documentary evidence and other written materials, in-depth interviews with transit officials and other key stakeholders, and physical inspections of the systems and sites of the attacks.
  3. Conducted detailed interviews with federal officials here in the U.S. responsible for overseeing transit security, and with transit industry representatives both here in the U.S. and abroad to learn about efforts to coordinate and finance transit security planning.
  4. Complemented these detailed case studies and interviews with a comprehensive survey of 113 of the largest transit operators in the U.S. regarding prior threats and attacks, past and current security planning and policing efforts, and approaches to four security strategies – policing, technology/hardware, public education/outreach, and crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED).

Transit Security

A report sponsored by the UCLA International Institute, the Burkle Center for International Relations and the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose University produced 10 major conclusions regarding ways to address terrorism in transit systems.

  • Public transit systems are open, dynamic and inherently vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
  • Threat of terrorism is probably not universal; most major attacks occur in large cities.
  • Transit managers are struggling to balance costs and benefits of increasing security versus attracking passengers.
  • Close coordination among government, security and transit sectors is critical to effective planning.
  • Standarization of emergency training, security audits and guidelines, and disaster preparedness is important.
  • Much work remains.
  • Passenger education is a challenge; passengers should be informed but not so fearful that they stop using public transit.
  • Role of crime prevention through environmental design in security planning is waxing
  • Transit agencies have been more likely to adopt comprehensive, multipronged approaches to security after Sept 11, 2001.
  • Given the uncertain effectiveness, anti-terrorism measures' most tangible benefits in transit may be a reduction in crime.

Source: Chair of Urban Planning Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Published: Thursday, July 07, 2005