Daily Breeze

July 29, 2005

Light rail officials discuss security at Congressional hearing
MTA's head of intelligence tells lawmakers in D.C. funds are needed for the L.A. area and elsewhere.

By Yuliya Horbach
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in London, a transportation official from Los Angeles joined other transit security experts from across the country at a congressional hearing Tuesday to discuss their preparedness for similar threats at home.

Authorities from metropolitan underground transit systems in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., shared similar goals to ensure transit security in their cities: Raising public and employee awareness of possible terrorist threats, conducting employee training and improving coordination.

"We are doing everything we possibly can and we'll never be done," said Paul Lennon, director of intelligence at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has been authorized nearly $13.6 million in transit security funds since 2003.

Lennon said the security program he oversees is "in good shape," but requires more funding, new intelligence technology and employee training.

"Training is not merely an option, it is mandatory," said Lennon, who illustrated its importance by citing a Jan. 26 rail incident in Los Angeles.

That incident, in which 11 people died and 200 more were injured, was caused by a man who officials said left his vehicle on a railroad track in an aborted suicide attempt.

Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee's Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology subcommittee, Lennon agreed with other officials that technology alone cannot provide sufficient transit security.

"We can have the largest security force, with the most modern equipment, but if they are not seamlessly communicating, coordinating and controlling our security and first responder assets, then we are not exercising command over any given threat," Lennon testified.

William Morange, director of security at New York MTA, also praised coordination, employee relationships and well-established communication that he said prevented deaths and injuries on Sept. 11, 2001.

The training program already implemented in Los Angeles focuses on preventing and responding to terrorist attacks and incorporates the employee training course developed by the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transit Institute in 2002.

"In terms of preparing to prevent a terrorist incident, we are very cognizant of the critical role our employees play," Lennon said. "They are our eyes, ears and voice in our nation's war against terror."

Nearly 73,000 transit employees nationwide, including 9,000 in Los Angeles, have been trained in situational awareness. Because that number represents only 20 percent of the total transit work force, "a large number of frontline transit employees in this country still lack proper training and preparedness for preventing and responding to incidents," noted Christopher Kozub, associate director of NTI.

Lennon also emphasized the need to focus more on enlisting the public's help in preventing attacks. According to him, the sense of detachment felt outside the East Coast has prevented many customers and employees from becoming directly involved in transit security in Los Angeles.

Morange testified to the success of its public awareness campaign, saying that calls reporting suspicious packages have increased significantly.

Subcommittee Chairman Peter King, R-NY, criticized the Transportation Security Administration for failing to submit a national transit security plan that was expected in April.

Mass transit authorities in Los Angeles have developed their own security plan to qualify for grant programs and said they were consulted by the TSA for their input in drafting the national plan.

"We all agree that it is long overdue and we need it as quickly as possible," King said of the national plan, which will set standards for the required level of competence of transit personnel.

At a time when Congress is considering homeland security and transportation legislation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited Washington last week lobbying for federal homeland security and transit security funding to be allocated on the basis of risk rather than population.