DISCUSSION FORUM Metro bomb attacks heighten worldwide alert Mar 2010
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
Scene of terror at the Lubyanka Station
- Monday morning; rush hour; central Moscow; underground on the Metro system; and terrorists have again demonstrated how vulnerable modern conurbations are to terror attack. Two reported female suicide bombers detonated their lethal load just as the trains they were riding pulled into crowded underground stations - the first at 7:56am on the central Sokolnicheskaya Red Line at Lubyanka Station in the heart of the city within sight of the Kremlin and the homeland security complex killing 24, and the second 40 minutes later at 8.38am fourstops down the line at the Park Kultury Station on the Brown Koltsevaya Circle Line, killing 14.
- Choosing to attack the underground mass transit system is not a strategy for causing the greatest damage or claiming the highest number of casualties. The opposite could be argued given the destruction and loss of life that has been caused by attacks on the surface or in the air where vehicles are carriers of high amounts of explosives. The reign of terror in the aftermath is also the objective and is very real. For passengers and authorities alike managing the response is crucial for imiting the disaster; be it a terror attack or a life threatening emergency.
Attacks struck in the heart of the city
- After the blasts in Moscow, survivors spoke of the thick suffocating smoke and a surge by the crowds to escape up the escalators. This could have caused more loss of life than the blasts themselves.
- In the aftermath of the attack in Moscow, mass transit systems around the world have heightened security and have reviewed emergency procedures.
- "It is not possible to have a 100% secure system or install security screening for underground systems similar to those used at airports for example," said Mysore Nagaraja, Co-founder and President of infrastructure development and management firm Spartan Solutions in the USA, and formerly the President of Capital Construction for the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) in New York, in charge of delivering $20 billion in capital works and managing a $1.1 billion security improvement investment for the New York Subway following the attacks on the city of 9/11 2001.
- "You cannot keep anyone out of the system. The systems have to be open to handle the volume of traffic. New York and Moscow along with Tokyo and London are among the busiest underground transit systems in the world, carrying upwards of 7 million riders per day. It is a big challenge to know how to address these threats and it is an effort that must involve the public as well as the emergency services, police, security agencies as well as the system operators. Eliminating the threat is the ideal but as it is not practical for subway systems - and we cannot say we cannot have underground systems. That is impossible. The aim of security regimes therefore is to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimize the catastrophe."
Case study response
Underground systems around the world have reacted with immediate heightened security and requests for the ridership to be extra vigilant. In Washington DC in the United States, Metro Transit Police with K-9 explosive ordnance detection dogs conducted random station and rail yard sweeps throughout the day and more security staff was deployed to main underground stations.
"We opened the system in the morningwith heightened security," said Metro Transit Police Acting Chief Jeri Lee. "We remain an open system and we do what we can to be as secure as possible."
Just the day before the incidents in Moscow , Metro staged an overnight drill simulating an explosion on a metro train trapping it in a running tunnel between stations and causing fatalities and multiple injuries. The system remained open during the midnight exercise when ridership was light and fewer passengers were impacted, and tested the integration and coordination among responding agencies.
Last month, new electric carts that ride the tracks were introduced to reach a scene within running tunnels quicker than ever before and evacuate victims to medical aid faster.
In early February Metro expanded its anti-terrorism unit by about 20 officers and launched 'Blue TIDE', a high-visibility show-of-force Terrorism Identification and Deterrence Effort.
- The immediate response by the political leaders in Moscow is to "track down and destroy the terrorists" but Muscovites interviewed heading into the underground to ride services operating again within hours of the attacks, accepted that terror strikes can happen anywhere at any time and that using the underground is a necessity, not an option. Other methods of dealing with the issues must be implemented.
- Responding immediately and effectively, as was the case reported in Moscow on Monday morning, is the most vital action. Chaos with the response is part of the objective of terrorists and the swift and evidently well-orchestrated mobilisation of emergency authorities, without knowing the extent of the attack or where another hit might occur, is part of denying the terrorists a perceived victory.
- With other major underground systems having suffered terror attacks of different types over recent decades - the London Underground bombings of July 2005; the Madrid bombings in March 2004; the saran gas attacks on the Tokyo Metro in March 1995; and the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001 - there is a global approach to methods for protecting the underground environment of mass transit systems.
Awaiting information in the aftermath
- There is an increased use of CCTV camera systems both in stations and on trains. Identifying perpetrators on the system ahead of the event goes far to breaking up terrorist rings.
- Much has been spent on hardening the structure of underground systems - the stations, the tunnels, particularly those sections passing under rivers and waterways, as well as the electronic and electrical systems. This is critical to limiting damage and to having these vital transportation systems in mega cities up and running again within the shortest possible time after an event. For areas off limits to the public, there are alarm systems to prevent anyone walking into the running tunnels or tampering with any electronic systems.
- A heightened visibility of both security as well as management personnel is needed at stations and on trains. This is often in conflict with budgets and contary to the trend over recent years to cut the number of guards on trains and stations to the point of being totally unmanned in some cades. Management of the aftermath of an incident however requires immediate control by individuals of recognized authority. They also provide 'intelligent' surveillance and plain-clothes security guards are also employed on major systems of the world.
Heightened security on guard
- The need for training staff and security teams is receiving increased resources. Well-trained teams make for immediate and effective response. To assist in this regard, Nagaraja explained that emergency services and the police often carry out drills in an underground system without prior warning, operating in real time and in the real environment.
- The general public must also be trained to be vigilant and alert to their surroundings, not only to spot the unusual but also to be conscious of what to do in an emergency. More perhaps could be achieved in this regard. Riders on all underground systems during the coming days, will be much more alert and perhaps nervous, but the sense of security and complacency will return quickly once normality is restored.
- The potential of terror attacks has become a raised focus in the process of planning, designing and building new extensions to underground systems. Emergency-escape routes, emergency ventilation systems, prevention of overcrowding in the underground space, adequate ingress and egress to the stations, and efficient interface with the trains, all must be designed along with calculating the impact of explosions of this size or that type on new infrastructure.
- The Moscow Metro is said to be the second busiest in the world after Tokyo. It comprises nearly 300km of track over 12 lines and has 180 station, the majority by far existing deep underground in mined stations and bored running tunnels. The attacks on Monday morning, 29 Marchby two female suicide bombers killed 48 people at the Lubyanka and Park Kultury Stations and follow a similar terror attack six years in 2004 when an explosion on a train killed 40 and wounded more than 100. The earliest terrorist attack on the system was in January 1977 when a bomb on an underground train killed seven and seriously injured 33.
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