London bombings spur interest in IT security tools

U.S. Capitol Police Containment Emergency Response Team members patrol inside Union Station Metrorail stop in Washington on July 8.

Larry Downing

Lawmakers rush to add more funding for mass transit security

The terrorist bombing attack July 7 in London is spurring efforts to install networked video surveillance systems and other advanced technology in commuter rail systems in the United States to deter similar attacks here.

Investigators in London are relying on hundreds of cameras installed in the underground transit system to help identify and capture suspects responsible for the attacks.

Mass transit systems in the United States have been developing similar video capabilities for years, with a spurt of activity following the Madrid rail attacks of March 2004, but the most recent round of bombings in Great Britain is giving the technology new urgency.

Following the British bombings, Washington, New York and other cities immediately stationed more police officers in public transportation systems to provide a show of force. But the special patrols are not meant to continue indefinitely, and the emphasis is turning to technology to provide tools to make police more effective over the longer term.

Several members of Congress are seeking an expanded federal budget for passenger rail security. This would fund greater use of such technologies as video surveillance, intelligent video, biological and chemical sensors, and biometric identity verification.

'We should step up deployments of remote surveillance technologies in mass transit systems, which will help prevent attacks as well as aid in the capture of those responsible,' Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

For instance, intelligent video, which links to analysis and other security applications, is gaining in popularity. In one pilot project, the Homeland Security Department on June 30 awarded Epsilon Systems Solutions Inc. of San Diego a contract to integrate intelligent video and radio frequency identification technologies to monitor security along freight rail lines that pass through Washington.

'We are excited about the opportunity to integrate cutting-edge technology into a system that will allow DHS, law enforcement and railroad personnel to monitor this critical stretch of rail line for suspicious and threatening activity,' Bryan Min, Epsilon's chief executive, said in a statement.

In addition to video, other IT applications of interest to integrators include RFID for rail employee identification cards, integration of public communication systems, and integration of passive biological and chemical sensors. Homeland security agencies also have tested explosive-detection devices and facial-recognition software.

Meanwhile, members of Congress are considering legislation to greatly expand funding for rail security. Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2006 Homeland Security budget of $100 million for rail security. The House version allocated $150 million.

But those numbers are set to rise. Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. (D-Del.) is expected to offer an amendment to add $1.2 billion for rail security over the next five years. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to double rail and mass transit security spending to $200 million and double bus grants to $20 million.

'The terrible terrorist attacks in London [are] our second wake-up call to greatly improve our rail and mass transit security,' Schumer said recently. DHS officials say additional money is available through grants to first-response agencies to protect critical infrastructures'a pot of more than $3.5 billion a year. But that money has to be stretched to cover all police, fire and emergency medical needs, as well as mass transit.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for GCN's sister publication, Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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