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Transit Security Briefing

Briefing: Update on the Status of FTA Security Initiatives


Since September 11th, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has undertaken a series of major steps to help prepare the transit industry to counter terrorist threats. FTA has provided direct assistance to transit agencies through on-site readiness assessments, technical assistance teams, regional forums for emergency responders, grants for drills, training, and accelerating technology and research projects. Click here for more details on FTA's 4-point security initiative.

From this initial work, it is clear that it is critical to integrate security throughout every aspect of transit programs, operations, and infrastructure. The most important areas of focus should be employee training, public awareness, and emergency response planning.

Although the transit industry has made great strides to strengthen security and emergency preparedness, there is much more to do. The  TSA/FTA Security and Emergency Management Action Items for Transit Agencies identifies areas that need to be addressed in security and emergency preparedness programs. This update to the FTA's Top 20 Security Program Action Items was developed by FTA and the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Office of Grants & Training (OGT), in consultation with the public transportation industry through the Mass Transit Sector Coordinating Council.


Transit is a critical, high risk and high consequence national asset. Everyday transit provides mobility to millions of Americans in our most densely populated urban areas and serves the largest economical and financial centers in the nation. Every workday, transit moves more than 14 million passengers. In two weeks, transit moves more passengers than AMTRAK moves in year. In one month, transit moves more passengers than U.S. airlines move in a year. Transit systems are designed to provide not only open, easy access to passengers, but to run under or along side our largest business and government buildings, intermodal transportation centers, and many of our nations most visible public icons. The U.S.D.O.T Office of Intelligence and Security estimated that in the 1990's transit was the target of 20 to 35 percent of terrorist attacks worldwide.

Transit is designed and operated as an open environment-it is by its very nature a high risk, high consequence target for terrorist. More than 9.5 billion passengers a year ride our transit systems. Some of the largest transit systems report that more than 1,000 people a minute enters their largest intermodal facilities during rush hour. Transit subways travel under key government buildings, business centers, and harbors. Worldwide, transit has been a frequent terrorist target, including bombings in the London and Paris subways, the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, and bus bombings in Israel.


Since September 11th, FTA has been learning, sharing, and applying all that we can to enhance transit security. We have learned from the terrorism experiences in London, Paris, Tokyo, and Israel. We have formed working relationships with the intelligence community, and have applied their expertise and knowledge to the transit industry. We gained a tremendous amount of information on the readiness and needs of the transit industry from the aggressive, five point initiative we began immediately after September 11th.

To date, FTA has:

1. Completed 37 threat and vulnerability assessments: Multi-disciplinary teams including experts in anti-terrorism, security, and transit operations assessed the readiness of the largest and highest risk transit agencies. Based on these assessments, FTA has provided specific feedback to individual agencies on how to improve their security systems and reduce vulnerabilities, as well as information on "best practices" to all transit agencies.

2. Deployed technical assistance teams: Emergency response planning and technical assistance teams are being deployed to the top 50-60 transit agencies to help them to implement the major components of a systematic security program including current security and emergency response plans, training assessments, security awareness materials for transit employees and customers, etc.

3. Awarded grants for drills by emergency responders and transit: Grants of up to $50,000 were awarded to 83 transit agencies to conduct tabletop and full scale drills with regional emergency responders to test and improve their security and emergency response plans.

4. Facilitated training and regional collaboration: A new 2-hour security awareness course for front line employees and supervisors is being delivered nationwide. This winter, FTA will complete 17 regional forums to promote regional collaboration and coordination among fire, police, and medical emergency responders and transit. To date, nearly 1,300 individuals, including representatives of 125 transit agencies and their community partners, have participated in these 2-day forums held in 10 locations across the country.


Research and policy leaders also call for an integrated, systematic approach to security. The Transportation Research Board's new security report, "Deterrence, Protection, and Preparation," recommends 'layered security systems' that are well integrated throughout transportation operations. Such security systems have interleaved and concentric features (e.g., fencing, security patrols, and closed circuit television), so a breach of any one layer will not defeat the entire system. Each layer provides backup for the others.

Fundamentally, security should be built into all aspects of transit operations as they are developed and created, rather than added as an afterthought. These concepts are found throughout FTA's security program, but given the age of most transit systems, we are, to a large extent, playing "catch up" with respect to security. Indeed, security is in its 'program infancy,' just as safety was 10 to 15 years ago, before every agency dramatically increased its focus and resources to address the alarming number of transportation fatalities.


With the knowledge and expertise we have acquired, FTA is enhancing its strategies and moving forward to further enhance transit security. We will continue to tap the expertise of TSA, the intelligence community, the transit industry, and others to help strengthen transit security. We will continue many of our current programs, and add new initiatives to meet a variety of needs that we have identified over the last year, as well as the priorities and strategies identified in the Office of Homeland Security's national strategy, as follows:

Preventing Terrorist Attacks: Because of the openness of transit facilities, timely threat and intelligence information is critical for the transit agencies to strategically target resources based on real-time threat information. FTA is tapping into existing intelligence information and warning networks, and developing new intelligence sharing systems to provide two-way communication between the intelligence community and the transit industry. We are also launching a nationwide 'transit watch' program with the transit industry that will draw upon more than 350,000 transit employees and millions of passengers to watch for and report suspicious activities.

  • For more information, go to:


Reducing America's Vulnerability to Terrorism: FTA is working with the transit industry to identify critical, high-risk assets and operations, and is developing a broad range of strategies to increase security. These strategies must become an integral part of daily transit operations and will include a special emphasis on training as well as, technical assistance, guidelines, best practices, and testing of available technologies for intrusion detection, surveillance, and chemical and biological detection. As these strategies are formulated, new initiatives will be introduced.

  • For more information, go to:

Updated Guidelines

Chem/bio Guidelines for Transit (PDF)

Minimizing Damage and Speeding Recovery: FTA's ongoing security program will work to promote regional coordination, communication, and shared drills among transit and emergency responders.

  • For more information go to:

Connecting Communities


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