- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Yesterday’s announcement of extra security measures on Montgomery County’s Ride On buses, including video surveillance cameras, was punctuated by the evacuation of the Rockville Metro Station because of a suspicious man carrying a bag.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan had just finished describing the new security features at a press conference at the station when authorities separated the man from his black messenger bag, cordoned off the area around the bag and called in the bomb squad.

The station entrance and adjacent bus stops were closed for about 45 minutes before Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s bomb unit determined the bag contained bottled water and sunglasses. The man was released.

Still, the alarm and rapid police response reflected the heightened alert throughout the nation’s mass-transit systems since terrorists bombed subways and buses in London more than two weeks ago, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds.

“We are very, very aware of the security situation,” Mr. Duncan said at the press conference. “We want to assure the public that we are doing everything we can to make the system as safe as possible.”

The county began increasing security measures after the Washington-area snipers killed a Ride On driver in October 2002. Continuing concern about terrorism has fueled the effort, Mr. Duncan said.

Some of the new security measures, such as uniformed and plainclothes police officers riding on buses, have been in place since January.

Mr. Duncan said yesterday’s announcement aimed to reassure the public in the wake of the London attacks.

Another new measure is a silent alarm that bus drivers can operate discreetly to signal authorities and activate a microphone for police to hear what is happening on board. Drivers also have a mobile phone handy to dial 911.

The county this year began equipping Ride On buses with video surveillance cameras. Officials expect to have cameras on half its fleet of 357 buses by next summer.

The cameras record activity on the buses for investigators to review after an incident, but someday may transmit live images as well.

“We are looking at technology that will allow us to watch in real time on the cameras,” Ride On General Manager Carolyn Biggins said.

Maryland authorities also have installed video cameras to record activity on the state’s buses and trains. They monitor closed-circuit cameras in Metro stations, MARC train lots and other facilities, said Col. John E. Gavrilis, deputy chief of Maryland Transit Administration Police.

They have uniformed and plainclothes officers on trains and buses, perform daily sweeps with bomb-sniffing dogs and conduct random ID checks, Col. Gavrilis said.

Metro Transit Police have deployed officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs at subway stations.

The stations’ public restrooms have been closed temporarily as another security measure since the London bombings.

Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said the public has responded favorably to the increased security on Ride On buses, which transported more than 25 million riders last year.

“They like the fact that cops are around and that gives them a sense of safety and security,” he said.

Several riders evacuated from the Rockville station said they didn’t feel inconvenienced.

“It is looking out for our best interest,” said Steve Mavro, 38, a manager of a nearby Chicken Out restaurant. “I’m not pressed by it.”

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