U.S. Transit Security, One Year After London One year after the deadly transit bombings in London, some significant steps have been taken to improve security on U.S. transit systems. Thousands of bus and rail employees in the United States are now being trained in how to spot terrorist activity.
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U.S. Transit Security, One Year After London

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U.S. Transit Security, One Year After London

U.S. Transit Security, One Year After London

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. And this was the scene in London one year ago today.

Ms. CHRISTINA LAWRENCE (Survivor, London Bombing): There was a loud bang in the tunnel. And then the train just stopped, and then all of a sudden it was just filled with black gassy smoke. It just took a while for people to get to us. And it was just very scary (unintelligible) get off the train.

BRAND: That was Christina Lawrence, a survivor of the rush hour bombings in London that killed 52 bus and subway riders. Thousands of bus and rail employees here in the U.S. are now being trained on how to spot terrorist activity.

NPR's Pam Fessler attended a session in Orlando and filed this report.

Unidentified Man #1: I mean, it doesn't have to be terrorist, but he's definitely suspicious.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

About two-dozen transit workers sit in Orlando's Emergency Operation Center, talking about what is and isn't suspicious. They all work for Florida bus lines in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orange County, even Disney and Universal. And they're here to learn how to train fellow workers to recognize terrorist activity when they see it.

Instructor Christopher Kozub says one bus might not seem like a potential target, but it could be.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER KOZUB (Assistant Director, National Transit Institute, Rutgers University): How many of you have a bus that goes, let's say, near a federal courthouse, or near a theme park, or inside a theme park? Maybe they don't want to hit your bus. Maybe they want to use your bus to blow something else up.

FESSLER: And Kozub, who's with the National Transit Institute at Rutgers University, says there just aren't enough law enforcement officers to watch everything.

Mr. KOZUB: Well, what do you have on every one of those buses? An operator.

FESSLER: Someone who should be able to spot something unusual. There are also dispatchers, and supervisors out there everyday. Fellow instructor Carl Buettner(ph) says potential attackers are likely to conduct surveillance, or a dry run before they strike. And that's the best time to trip them up.

Mr. CARL BUETTNER (National Transit Institute, Rutgers University): They'll enter your restricted areas just to see if they can do it or not. And you know what? Normally what happens is we'll approach them and say, excuse me. What are you doing here? And their get out of jail card is I'm lost.

FESSLER: But instead of giving them directions, maybe a transit worker should ask more questions, or report to a supervisor, in case there are other similar incursions. Buettner says the key is to be vigilant without being paranoid. But it soon becomes clear that what's suspicious to some here is normal to others.

Suppose a woman at a bus stop paces nervously as she holds a heavy, tightly wrapped package. When she sees where the bus is headed, she walks away. The group is split over what it means. Mike Gloss is with the Pinellas SunCoast Transit Authority.

Mr. MICHAEL GLOSS (Safety and Training Supervisor, Pinellas SunCoast Transit Authority): I mean, if I'm on a route that's heading out into the boondocks where I'm not carrying anybody, and she walks away looking for another bus, I'd be - I'd get a little bit more concerned.

FESSLER: But Aaron Clemens(ph), of Orlando's Link System, says it's not suspicious at all.

Mr. AARON CLEMENS (Link System, Orlando): The package was heavy. She's been waiting. The bus is late. That bus was a 20. She's waiting on a 22. She's upset and disgusted because the 22 is not there.

Unidentified Man #1: You don't know that.

Mr. CLEMENS: That's what I thought.

Unidentified Man #1: That's what I'm saying.

FESSLER: And then begins this lengthy debate.

Unidentified Man #2: She could have been at Tiffany's and bought a vase...

Mr. CLEMENS: You don't know what that was.

Unidentified Man #2: ...worth $100,000. Right?

Unidentified Man #3: That's right.

Unidentified Man #1: She'd be nervous about something. I don't think she'd be taking a bus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLEMENS: You know, there's a lot of people take buses that you don't think they would. You don't - you can't say that.

FESSLER: And, in fact, one of the main messages here is don't rely on stereotypes; anyone can be a terrorist. Watch what people do, not what they look like. One man says he'd be calling things in all day, if he worried about every strange person he saw. That drew this from Joe Diaz of Tampa.

Mr. JOE DIAZ (Tampa, Florida): Nobody says you got to call in everything. They just want you to start to learn to look at these things.

Unidentified Man #4: I understand that.

Mr. DIAZ: That's what we're talking about

FESSLER: And, indeed, Kozub says there's no one right answer. It's more a gut feeling that can differ from place to place, and worker to worker.

Mr. KOZUB: One of the primary objectives of this whole exercise is to get you to understand that you and your employees, are the only ones who could make that assessment.

FESSLER: He says employees should be encouraged to report their concerns without, of course, getting hysterical every time someone leaves a bag on a bus. He says most of it's just common sense, which someday could prove crucial.

Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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