Actions to Improve the Security of Intermodal Transportation

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Intermodal Transportation

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) reported that there was a substantial increase in terrorist activity in 2013, with more than 80% of lives lost. 2012 and 2013 showed the highest death toll from terrorism: 11,133 and 17,958 individuals respectively. The attacks on the World Trade Center made it clear that terrorism is a new reality that is well-coordinated, financed, and pitiless. This increasing threat, directed towards transit systems in the US and around the world, requires the states, other relevant stakeholders, and the public at large to take action to prepare for and respond to incidents as well as minimize the losses if such acts of violence occur. Intermodal transport is the transportation of cargo in intermodal containers using several means of transport and without handling the cargo (human, goods) when changing between the means. With terrorism being a threat to intermodal transport, safety is paramount and requires the cooperation of the federal and state government, along with other stakeholders, to develop and implement the strategies to counter and stop terrorism.

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The response of different agencies after the 9/11 attacks was evidence of effective cooperation, preparation, and strategic planning in addressing the tragedy from a transport-related perspective. The majority of the systems provided free transport, created circuitous routes, took passengers from competitors, and even distributed foods and blankets to all victims. The dedication and generosity were exceptional, so was the ability to redirect lines and get people home safely that showed training of the highest degree. The response by transit systems clearly demonstrated that many transit agencies were able to respond to emergencies, make decisions quickly, and be able to come up with solutions because they were ready.

While it is generally believed that public transport is a safe and affordable alternative to car travel, public transport is a major target for terrorists (Frith et al. 13). Mass transit agencies in all the cities across the US have revised safety and security protocols in face of terrorism. There has been a rise in demand for new security devices. They include electronic employee identification cards (IDs) and vehicular gates at all entry points in all metros, a metro-rail fiber-optic network for video recording devices, programmable intrusion equipment to inform police of any unauthorized intrusion into the subway, to name a few. The other useful means are closed-circuit television (CCTV) and motion detection systems for metro-rail perimeter fencing and facilities, personal protection equipment, training and satellite phones for employees, chemical emergency sensor program expansion, bomb-resistant containers in all rail stations, and uniformed patrols with high-visibility uniforms with K-9 teams and explosion detection vehicles.

Terrorist Threats Facing Inter-modal Transport Systems

The complexity of terrorist threats shows the need for the adoption of collaborative efforts. Terrorists around the globe target depots, ticket stations, railway bridges, light rail, and subway systems. As a result of these attacks, minor and serious injuries and fatalities are reported. In 2013, 87 countries in the world experienced at least a single terrorist incident (START). The U.S. Department of Transportation declared that due to the large physical infrastructure of freight railroad, the service providers are forced to rely on IT to manage day-to-day operations. This feature makes companies susceptible to terror or hacker activity, disrupting service, transportation of weapons of mass destruction, and even release of hazardous materials.

Securing high priority targets, such as subways or metros, requires strategic planning and implementation. After the attacks in the World Trade Center, there has been several warnings about potential terrorist attacks in these transport systems. Subways can be easily accessed and breached because it is hard to secure checkpoints that screen passengers fully. The design of the rail system makes it vulnerable to terrorist attacks, especially during peak and rush hours, as there are literary thousands of commuters in enclosed spaces making them a perfect target for an attack. A biological or chemical attack would have a catastrophic result as air above the ground and generated by trains could lead to widespread infection due to limits in the ventilation systems.

Moreover, a need for collaboration to prevent terrorist attacks should not be underestimated whereas any mode of transport is a potential target. Terrorists prefer to use trucks to carry out attacks because this transport is the preferred weapon of choice by terrorists. Trucks can ferry large amounts of hazardous materials and provide a platform for terrorists as they can be easily exploded or detonated on impact. Chlorine is a dangerous substance transported by trucks, and if not monitored strictly, it can unknowingly be released. Drivers may leave trucks unattended at fueling stations while the engines are running, or they park their freight to abandoned, unsafe areas. Consequently, safety requires collaboration and coordination to ensure transport modes are free of terrorist hazards.

Buses are also a favored choice by terrorists. According to the data compiled by the FBI, between 1920 and 2000, about 40% of buses worldwide were targets of terrorist attacks, including school buses (Nacos). Terrorists target school business because their routes are well-known and can be compromised easily as they are not well-guarded. School children are not a threat to terrorists, making them easy targets. Because of that school buses are susceptible to attacks, stakeholders agree that evasive programs are important to ensure school buses are safe. With more than 450,000 school buses on US roads daily, statistics show that terrorist attacks on school buses is third on the list of potential targets (Nacos). Additionally, buses are extremely prone to accidents. The highest fatality rate is for transport via road, with an average of 10.2 people killed each year in the US (Furchtgott-Roth and Green).

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Measures Currently in Place to Tackle Intermodal Transport Terrorist Threats

Adaptation and implementation of counter-terrorism measures are essential to stop or prevent potential attacks. Expansion of inspection and tracking of various shipments by info mobility, such as RF identification tags, electronic sensors, and electronic seals that can be read by electronic readers are in use to track shipments as they travel from city-to-city across the states (Filippi, Fusco and Nanni 6). E-sensors detect and document changes to freight while on route. Other security devices used to track freight and employee activity that include cryptography, bio-metric devices, such as fingerprint and retinal scanners, and wireless communication tracking systems that document shipping data at various control points.

Collaboration between government agencies and key stakeholders is essential against the imminent terror threat to transport hubs. Employee training involving train operators and service employees emergency and responsive drills are programs in progress in the US. The goal is to limit casualties in the event of a terrorist attack or an accident. Following the 9/11 events, various drills and tests have been conducted on passenger systems to ensure readiness of the personnel in case of emergency situations. Chemical and biological defense and response systems are some of the systems that are currently under testing. For instance, in Washington, D.C., the subway system has a program for identifying strange-looking packages and luggage. Staff and passengers have been trained to report suspicious behavior and prepare for evasive and emergency measures. The measures offer guidance for outlining and examining incidents, using the command system, notifying and dispatching emergency personnel and equipment, evacuating victims and restoring the systems.

Inspection of tracks, tunnels, bridges, innovative construction designs and security on bridges and tunnels in and out of New York City is tight with police and National Guard personnel patrolling and restricting truck traffic after the 9/11 terror attacks. Additionally, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge maintenance doors were shut to prevent damage to bridge cable lines and anchors. In 2002, Amtrak received a federal grant of $76 million to modernize ventilation and communication systems in New York City railway tunnels making them safer (Barnes). Innovative designs are in place to reduce the risk of accidents and reduce casualties in case of a terrorist attack. Urban areas, in particular dense and congested inner cities, have specific requirements for freight distribution. Goods are carried around to supply stores and shops under a number of constraints, including narrow streets with limited accessibility and maneuvering space, the need for very fast loading and unloading to minimize traffic abstractions, and often restrict environmental regulations and restricted area permits (e.g., in pedestrian zones) (Alessandrini et al. 153).

Piracy is another big challenge to maritime security. The cost of pirate hijacks in the East coast of Africa proved to be one of the most dangerous places in the past few years, with companies and governments losing billions of dollars in hijacked ships and cargo. The actual figure in dollars is ephemeral. Freight transport is a fundamental part of urban life that may shake the foundation of modern principles of the world economy if under threat (Behrends et al. 694). The call for coordinated international action is required. Almost all the world’s commerce flows through the infrastructure of the maritime systems within the global supply chain. Thus, it is not just the US that needs to be vigilant and prepared: it is every country that trades goods and engages in commerce internationally (Sewak 9).

Best Practices to Secure Transport Hubs

The need for cooperation is based on the complex nature of the hazard and availability of best practices and strategies to be incorporated into a single framework. For instance, to have an effective response and help emergency workers in the event of a terrorist attack, the subway administration in Washington, D.C., embarked on a program to train a chosen group of passengers for train and subway evacuation drills to teach them how to assist fellow commuters during an attack. Subways and rails are vulnerable to explosive devices and pose hazards during an emergency that requires specialized training. As part of the drill, volunteering commuters are taught how to navigate live tracks in the dark subway tunnels.

With trucks haul a staggering 70% of U.S. freight, still, the federal government spends more on airplane safety than on truck safety (Garner and Lester). The security problems in the trucking industry are imminent as the drivers are behind the wheel around the clock. In 1998, the Highway Watch program was formed with the sole aim of training truckers to spot terrorist activities and provision of a national platform to communicate if there is any trouble. This one-day training helps truckers learn about terrorism on trucks around the globe, how a terrorist attack occurs, and ways in which an individual may be able to identify a potential case. Security measures have also been taken to curb trucks that have been stolen or hijacked. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems are in use by fleet operators to monitor and pinpoint locations of trucks while on route making deliveries.

Recommendations made to ensure that buses are safe include identifying security threats and strange-looking individuals, monitoring suspicious objects and activities, swift response to a security incident, and reporting suspicious activity to the authorities. GPS and video cameras are technologies that used to enhance security in buses and help prevent terrorists from striking. Transport managers use GPS to know where each bus is at any particular moment that is a big step forward in digital security monitoring. Moreover, the inter-modal transportation simulation system offers specialized expertise and capabilities for the analysis of existing conditions and redevelopment strategies for the creation of inter-modal linkages. The use of GPS systems and thumb-print technologies is highly effective in tracking hijacked buses. However, such measures, unfortunately, cannot protect the riders from acts of terrorism. Buses use operating on gasoline which is highly inflammable. Another method to safeguard this transportation mode from a potential terrorist attack is to convert buses from petrol to diesel, which is less explosive. Bus drivers, as well as teachers, need to be prepared to implement safety measures which most schools are trying to introduce. Modesto City (California) schools do usually hold simulated training sessions for their school bus drivers, where the adult drivers pretend to be students on a bus that has been hijacked by terrorists. Participants said the experience is usually frightening but is great learning experience for all those involved.

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Government Private and Public Sector Collaborate to Secure Transport Hubs

One of the key elements in preventing and responding to terrorist threats is operators, drivers, and personnel who have adequate training and are well-prepared to tackle any unforeseen situation. When the individuals on the ground can respond and regroup, it is very easy to resolve any situation. Traditional training practices are equally important with the military and Federal Aviation Authority learning methods that put an individual in a really dangerous environment go a long way in preparation and awareness. The simulation processes allow the trainers to weigh their actions and experiment on various solutions. The virtual world and simulations are perfect media for security training, which require to role-play and applying the learning technologies to focus on the community needs.

The Federal Transit Authority is issuing guidelines that offer practical assistance to transit personnel, individuals, and organization who are responsible for planning, managing, and recovery during emergencies and disasters. The Transit Watch campaign is intended to raise awareness of transit employees, drivers, and the public. It is aimed to help make transit in all communities across the United States as safe as possible. The main difficulty is to raise employees’ awareness without causing their panic. However, if there is too much information to be consumed, employees may choose to ignore some, especially when it is handed to them in huge manuals, like in many safety information guides. Innovative measures are designed to inform employees and evaluate how these measures are utilized to come up with the most effective set of guidelines again terror prevention and recovery.

Simulation technology is most effective when it comes to training. It allows the individual to come face-to-face with a terrorist situation and then force him/her to come up with a rapid response. Simulation training offers training that is realistic, one that mimics everyday activity on transit hubs and requires quick action and thinking to thwart or limit the seriousness of the situation. The individual in the transport hub needs to respond swiftly, including a bus or rail operator, station agent or someone who is in charge of many people delegated within a single hub, to list a few. Consequently, all employees, ranging from executive and administrative to security personnel, can also find themselves in a situation where they may be required to take action. Knowledge about what to do in case of a crisis is important as it can protect those affected and save lives (European Commission 144). Sometimes, waiting for emergency services takes long and it may also depend on the type and extent of the incident. However, a transit employee is not required to put their life on the line: they can observe, assess the situation, and take action depending on the incident to reduce risk to commuters and colleagues.

Extensive research is conducted in terms of the use of computer games as an alternative to traditional learning and awareness. They are extremely useful to the younger employees who are tech-savvy while growing up playing PC games. Some off-the-shelf computer games have the potential to provide engaging information about actual scenarios to counter real-life situations. With city transit systems being potential targets, users may be able to plan surveillance and security tactics. The Navy, Army, and the Department of Defense have developed several techniques to assist in-game application for use in training and educations models.


Currently, the world is faced with the problem of terrorism which is a challenge to both finance and manpower. Tackling this problem might seem like a headache, but it is possible. Terrorism is real, and everyone has to alert, as its occurrence is unpredictable. By taking an approach based on collaborative performance that is relevant, credible, engaging, and aimed at ensuring that transit personnel is prepared to respond immediately and appropriately when encountered with a perilous situation. The federal, state governments and other stakeholders have already implemented and are developing new strategies and technologies to ensure the intermodal transport system is secure. The use of technologies and knowledge gained by transit employees during their preparation for counter-terrorism needs to be constantly tested to ensure that each member knows their role, the outcome of any action they take, and the implications to the commuters, fellow employees, and moral responsibilities. Fighting terrorism on transport hubs is a collective task that involves executives, administrative management, security personnel, transit employees, and the general public. Keeping an edge on innovation and coming up with new strategies and technologies is the key to ensuring that transportation hubs stay safe in the long run.

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