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Protecting Public Surface Transportation Against Terrorism and Serious Crime: Continuing Research on Best Security Practices

NCJ Number
Brian M. Jenkins; Larry N. Gersten
Date Published
September 2001
124 pages
This document assesses the threat of chemical and biological agent terrorist attacks on surface transportation systems.
Terrorists continue to attack public surface transportation worldwide with no indication of stopping these attacks. Surface transportation systems are not protected as easily as airplanes because they are readily accessible, convenient, and inexpensive for the traveling public. The features that have become part of the passenger landscape at airports, such as passenger screening, metal detectors, and armed guards, cannot be transferred easily to subway stations, bus stops, or light rail platforms. Surface transportation offers an array of vulnerable targets to terrorists that seek publicity, political disruption, or high body counts. Good security measures can make terrorist operations more difficult, increase the terrorists’ likelihood of being detected and identified, keep casualties and disruptions to a minimum, reduce panic, and reassure alarmed passengers in a crisis. Case studies of national and international surface transportation systems were done to review security measures. Results showed that there appeared to be differences with respect to historical references, cultural values, and government organizational arrangements. An analyses of these elements help to suggest why some surface terrorism efforts succeed, some fail, and others never occur. Some areas of the world accept surface transportation terrorism as the cost of doing business while others are much less tolerant of terrorism. The attitudes of authorities and the general public play large roles in the management of surface transportation terrorism and the threat of such assaults. The structure of government authority may help to explain the different response patterns to terrorism. One fact regarding the management of surface transportation systems remains indisputable: no matter what the differences in history, values, or government capabilities are surface transportation terrorism can never be stopped altogether. 8 figures, 2 appendices, bibliography