- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2005


Within hours of the London bombings, a call was renewed for the United States to use its considerable technological heft to prevent similar attacks on the nation’s transit system.

Public transit’s chief lobbyist said its members need $6 billion to upgrade security, and Congress is expected to increase funding in the coming weeks. Sensing opportunity, some technology companies aggressively advertised their potential to create gadgets to detect bombs and chemical and biological weapons.

But detection devices that would sound an alarm when a bomb-carrying terrorist enters a train station are years and billions of dollars from fruition. The best current defenses for the country’s subways, buses and trains, security specialists say, remain decidedly low-tech: human vigilance and bomb-sniffing dogs.

The very nature of mass transportation prohibits metal detectors and other security measures that are used to protect the flying public.

“You can not just take the applications that are used in airport and plunk them into the transit system,” said Gregory Hull, director of safety and security programs for the American Public Transportation Association. “But some could be modified.”

The industry has spent $2 billion since September 11, 2001, training its security personnel to be on the lookout for abandoned packages and suspicious passengers, Mr. Hull said.

Nonetheless, the system needs about $5 billion in radio communications improvements, and the industry is also keen to deploy more cameras to monitor tunnels and stations.

Another technology under development is software that would direct cameras to flag suspicious scenes at stations such as abandoned packages.

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