WORCESTER, Mass. – The Transportation Security Administration has been working closely with the Worcester Regional Transit Authority in Central Massachusetts during the course of the past 20 months to help ensure that the mass transit agency has appropriate security measures ready in the event of a security incident.
At the invitation of WRTA officials, TSA conducted a baseline security assessment of WRTA in August 2017 and has been working with transit authority officials ever since to help identify ways in which they can mitigate security risks.
Multiple sessions have been conducted with bus operators to discuss how best to perform pre-and post-trip inspections of their buses, to teach them to look for suspicious activities, and to recognize the difference between an unattended item and a suspicious item. Bus operators also have been encouraged to report unusual incidents to WRTA officials in addition to local law enforcement.
The WRTA operates 52 buses and 20 vans in Central Massachusetts and “the transit authority is very interested in doing what it can to step up its security and raise awareness as to what to be on the lookout for,” said Ryan Whitehead, a TSA Transportation Security Inspector who has been working with WRTA officials.
A tabletop exercise was conducted in March 2018, which included scenarios such as how to deal with a suspicious package, a bomb threat to one of the bus facilities, an explosion, and recovery from a terrorist attack. “The value of this type of exercise was to help ensure that all employees who would be involved in such real-life scenarios would know what actions they would be expected to take,” Whitehead said. These tabletop exercises get the right people in the room to meet each other face-to-face and become better security partners prior to any potential incident. It offers the opportunity to discuss action steps that each entity would be responsible for, such as roles by security officials, maintenance workers, trainers, bus operators, administrators and law enforcement officials. TSA then provided an after-action report with recommendations on how to build upon the partnerships and improve WRTA coordination and communication.
Currently, TSA is working with WRTA on an assessment of security enhancements that have been put into place. TSA placed suspicious bags on buses to see if the bus operators noticed and reported those bags. The result was that WRTA bus operators performed better than the national average. TSA officials also visited a bus hub where they distributed flyers to bus operators about pre-trip inspections and what to look for during those inspections, to include seeking to identify hidden items, obvious threats, non-typical items and generally everyday common items that passengers may leave behind. TSA officials plan to return to WRTA later this year to conduct yet another assessment to continue to raise the bar for security at WRTA.
“All of these assessments and exercises are completely voluntary and are conducted at no cost to the mass transit agency,” Whitehead said. “We’ve seen the stakeholders come together as a team in the event that a real-life emergency takes place, and each entity knows how they will collaborate to address any threats.”