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Advancing the Security Baseline

Mass Transit

TSA staff has worked closely with FTA colleagues to develop and publish the Security and Emergency Preparedness Action Items, an update of the former Top 20 Security Actions for Mass Transit Agencies produced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Coordinated with members of the TCLDR-GCC and the Mass Transit SCC, the newly enhanced Action Items represent a comprehensive and systematic approach to elevate baseline security posture and enhance security program management and implementation. They address the current security risks that confront transit agencies today and priority areas where gaps need to be closed in security and emergency preparedness programs. The 17 Action Items cover a range of areas including security program management and accountability, security and emergency response training, drills and exercises, public awareness, protective measures for the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) threat levels, physical security, personnel security, and information sharing and security. For more about NTAS, click here.

The Security and Emergency Management Action Items and the Recommended Protective Measures for HSAS Threat Levels both recommend background checks of employees and contractors. To further assist the mass transit and passenger rail providers in this area, TSA has issued additional guidance on the factors to consider on the recommended scope of and procedures for voluntarily conducted background checks. The Additional Guidance on Background Checks, Redress and Immigration Status are consistent with guidance TSA has issued on background checks in other transportation modes. They do not alter, limit, or conflict with State or Federal statutory protections, regulations, orders, and directives of the DHS, DOT, or any other government agency.

Through the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP), DHS has allocated $547 million to date to 60 of the Nation's mass transit and passenger rail systems in 25 states and the District of Columbia. As substantive lead for the program, TSA employs a risk-based prioritization in determining eligible passenger rail and transit agencies, funding allocations, and evaluations for award. This approach applies TSGP resources to generate the highest return on investment and, as a result, strengthen the security of the Nation's transit systems in the most effective and efficient manner.

As priorities for TSGP funding, TSA emphasizes activities that ensure transit systems enhance their capabilities in implementing six core fundamentals that provide the essential foundation for effective security programs. The Transit Security Fundamentals are:

  1. Protection of high risk underwater/underground assets and systems. Because of the consequences of attacks employing improvised explosive devices (IED) in an enclosed environment where there may also be large concentrations of riders, protecting riders and the integrity of the transit system against such attacks is essential. Transit agencies should focus countermeasures on programs that can prevent an attack or mitigate the consequences of an incident. Active coordination and regular testing of emergency evacuation plans can also greatly reduce loss of life.


  2. Protection of other high risk assets that have been identified through system-wide risk assessments. It is imperative that transit agencies focus countermeasure resources on their highest risk, highest consequence assets. For example, a system-wide assessment may highlight the need to segregate critical security infrastructure from public access. One solution could be an integrated intrusion detection system, controlling access to these critical facilities or equipment. Transit systems should consider security technologies to help reduce the burden on security manpower. For example, using smart CCTV systems in remote locations can help free up security patrols to focus on more high-risk areas.


  3. Use of visible, unpredictable deterrence. Visible, random, and unpredictable security patrols have proven to be very successful for instilling confidence and calm in the riding public and, most importantly, in deterring attacks. These kinds of patrols, especially those employing explosives detection canine teams or mobile screening or detection equipment, represent effective means to prevent and deter IED attacks. Security patrols should be properly trained in counter-terrorism surveillance techniques. An understanding of terrorist behavior patterns helps security patrols more effectively intervene during terrorist surveillance activities or the actual placing of an IED.


  4. Targeted counter-terrorism training for key front-line staff. Appropriate training enhances detection and prevention capabilities and ensures a rapid, prepared response in the first critical minutes after an attack-steps that can significantly reduce the consequences of the attack. For example, well trained and rehearsed operators can help ensure that if an underground station has suffered a chemical agent attack, trains-and the riding public-are quickly removed from the scene, thus reducing their exposure and risk.


  5. Emergency preparedness drills and exercises. Experience has taught transit agencies that well-designed and regularly practiced drills and exercises are fundamental to rapid and effective response and recovery. Transit agencies should develop meaningful exercises, including covert testing, that test their response effectiveness and how well they coordinate with first responders. In addition to large regional drills, transit systems should also conduct regular, transit-focused drills. Drills should test response and recovery to both natural disasters, as well as, terrorist attacks.


  6. Public awareness and preparedness campaigns. Successful security programs in all industries understand the value and power of the public's "eyes and ears." Awareness programs should be well-designed and employ innovative ways to engage the riding public to become part of their "transit security system." Advertisement campaigns, using media and celebrity support have proven to be very successful. Including the riding public in preparedness and evacuation drills has also been shown to be effective in raising public awareness. A transit agency's awareness campaign should also extend to its employees. Appropriate counter-terrorism training, coupled with a strong security awareness campaign, will yield significantly heightened security awareness in transit systems.

Through the Baseline Assessment and Security Enhancement (BASE) program, TSA Surface Transportation Security Inspectors (STSIs) assess a transit system's security posture on the 17 Security and Emergency Preparedness Action Items. Particular emphasis is placed on the six core Transit Security Fundamentals.

The BASE program aims to elevate security generally, expand TSA's awareness and understanding of security posture in the passenger rail and mass transit mode, enable more effective targeting of security programs and technical assistance to elevate security, and facilitate sharing of best security practices.

In a cooperative effort with FTA, the STSI Program offers assistance to State Safety Oversight Agencies (SSOA) in completing security audits of the Nation's 26 rail transit systems under 49 CFR Part 659. This regulation, administered by FTA, requires rail fixed guideway¹ systems to maintain a system security plan that meets specific parameters, to conduct annual reviews of the plan, and to conduct internal security reviews of the implementation and effectiveness of the security plan. The STSI Program is providing this security assistance and integrating its broader security assessments in a comprehensive approach that limits disruptions to transit system operations and "audit fatigue."

In a third major initiative, the TSA inspectors offer the Security Analysis and Action Program (SAAP), which constitutes a systematic vulnerability assessment of a mass transit or passenger rail system. The program utilizes several different tools to identify vulnerabilities based on specific scenarios, such as an IED on a passenger train. SAAPs can be conducted on individual critical infrastructure facilities or entire rail systems, with particular emphasis on critical control points.

Finally, inspectors review design plans for systems under construction. STSIs conducted such an assessment on the Phoenix rail transit system to assess the adequacy of its security design and recommend improvements that can be accomplished during the final stages of construction.

The interagency Standards and Research Committee, operating under a memorandum of understanding between TSA, the DHS Office of Grants & Training and FTA, has the lead for security and standards development. This committee coordinates on and reviews mass transit standards developed by organizations such as the American Public Transportation Association and the American National Standards Institute. Upon completion of this review, the recommended standards are sent to DHS for approval and subsequent dissemination to the mass transit and passenger rail community.

TSA, in conjunction with the DHS Office of Science & Technology, advances the development and testing of security technologies suitable for the passenger rail and mass transit mode. To ensure technology enhances security capabilities in transit agencies, the Federal effort seeks development of mobile and fixed systems amenable to the demands of the transit environment that may be deployed flexibly for maximum deterrent effect and protection of high risk infrastructure. Pilot testing employs equipment in this manner to validate capabilities most effectively and achieve deterrent impact. Future research and development initiatives will maintain this focus.

Latest revision: 24 December 2012