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PCAC Statement – Feb 14, 2008 – Security Increases

Statement to the New York City Council Committee on Transportation
February 14, 2008

My name is William Guild. I am Chair of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The PCAC is the coordinating body for three riders councils created by the New York State Legislature in 1981: the Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council (LIRRCC); the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC); and the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC).

The councils were created to give users of MTA subway, bus, and commuter rail services a voice in the formulation and implementation of MTA policy and to hold the MTA Board and management accountable to riders. The PCAC and its councils hold regular public meetings and forums, undertake frequent research projects, and maintain a support staff of transportation planning professionals. Since 1995 the PCAC has held a non-voting seat on the MTA Board. The 38 authorized members of the PCAC are required to be regular users of the MTA system, and serve without pay. Members are appointed by the Governor’s office, upon the recommendation of county executives and, for New York City, the mayor, public advocate, and borough presidents.

The members of the PCAC and its constituent Councils, including the Transit Riders Council of which I am a member, strongly support efforts to increase the security of the subway and other MTA facilities. We note that systems and procedures aimed primarily at countering terrorist threats are likely to yield substantial side benefits in deterring and investigating more mundane, but nevertheless threatening, criminal activity in these locations.

The fast answer to the question posed in the topic for this hearing, “Terror-proofing the Subways: Is the MTA there yet?” is ‘no,’ since we will never have a subway system – or anything else for that matter – that is totally immune to the threat of terrorism. Of course, the same can be said for crime, accidents and natural disasters. Nevertheless, the public has a right to expect that the MTA and NYC Transit, together with the NYPD Transit Bureau and other relevant agencies at the federal, state and local level, are carrying out their duty to move forward as quickly as possible with all reasonable initiatives to assure their safety. We commend the City Council and this Committee for your oversight in this regard.

The members of the PCAC and the Transit Riders Council are by no means experts on cuttingedge security technology or anti-terrorism strategy and tactics. We would not substitute our judgment for that of experts in this field, including the MTA, its consultants, and other responsible governmental agencies. Nor do we have a need to know the operational details of the MTA’s counterterrorism plans. Nothing could be more counter-productive than public disclosure or discussion of such matters, which are and ought to remain confidential.

Nevertheless, technical knowledge of cutting-edge security and operational detail are not necessary to provide constructive comments on the MTA’s efforts in this area. From public discussions of its security program and information released through the media, the general outlines are evident. Based upon this information, the members of the PCAC would like to share with you several concerns about the MTA’s security program, focusing particularly on the subways.

A substantial part of the MTA’s counterterrorism effort is in the area of electronic surveillance systems. Given the size and complexity of the subway system, it is understandable that the MTA would turn to such technology to get the largest impact per unit of resources. An extensive system of cameras installed in the London Underground proved very useful in the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, bombings. Images from this system were used to identify and apprehend those who had been involved in the attack and, presumably, to head off additional bombings. Shortly after this incident, in August 2005, the MTA announced a $212 million contract for installation of a network of surveillance cameras, together with sensors and computer software designed to evaluate input from the cameras and sensors and to identify potential threats.

Unfortunately, as time has gone by, the number of locations to be fitted with security equipment has grown, the cost of the system has risen, and the schedule of work has been extended. Moreover, there have been difficulties with the ‘intelligent video’ component of this system which may prove inadequate to the tasks for which it is intended.

We are troubled by the lack of progress in deploying the security network called for in the August 2005 contract, which provided that the entire system be operational by August 31, 2008. Currently, the first phase of the work, including installation of approximately 1,000 cameras, is not scheduled to be completed until March 2009, with the entire system slated for completion by December 2009. As noted, the ‘intelligent video’ component may not be fully operational even when the rest of the system comes on line some sixteen months late.

Even as implementation of this high-tech system has lagged, the NYPD has made changes in the deployment of officers in the Subway system that likewise concern us. In response to the terrorist threat, the NYPD established so-called ‘Omega Booths’ at the ends of some platforms to control access to subaqueous tunnels – subway tunnels making water crossings. We understand that the staffing of these booths has since been modified so that police officers are no longer present at all times. Officers may be stationed in the booth or they may be riding trains through the tunnels.

We are concerned that the Omega Booths are left unstaffed at times, even before sensors designed to detect unauthorized persons in the subway tunnels have been installed. If this change is a response to fiscal constraints, it would appear that the NYPD Transit Bureau’s resources may have been stretched too thin. That is surely an issue for this Committee and for the City Council.

It is important for the MTA’s security systems to function correctly, but it is important also that such systems be installed and put into service promptly. The PCAC calls upon the MTA and its partners to work together to facilitate implementation of effective security systems. If resource constraints are slowing progress or reducing utilization of systems already in place, the MTA and its partners in government must work together to overcome such constraints and reorder priorities. Subway riders and workers deserve our best efforts to ensure their safety and security.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify today.


Permanent Citizens Advisory

Committee to the MTA