- Briefing Room
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
The world of transportation changed on September 11, 2001. Security has always been a concern, but the events of that day brought it to a whole new level. Outrage mixed with resolve to protect our citizens, our critical transportation infrastructure, and our very way of life.
Recent events like suicide bombings in Iraq, the bombing of the rail line in Madrid, and now the close surveillance of key buildings in New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia confirm that terrorism continues to be an evil force that we need to take very seriously.
When we talk about transportation security, we naturally think about protection of critical infrastructure, putting up barriers, strengthening piers, protecting tunnel ventilation systems, and the like. But there is more to security than just stronger bridges and tunnels.
We need to take a hard look at what is truly critical, analyze its vulnerabilities, develop cost effective countermeasures, and prioritize their implementation. President Bush is in the forefront of rallying the resources of the federal government to improve our security against terrorist and other threats. And he has challenged us at U.S. DOT to help design a plan to provide for transportation security.
We are currently working with the Department of Homeland Security to develop the National Transportation Systems Security Plan (NTSSP) to provide guidance on how to protect transportation. That means guidance on how we identify vital infrastructure and how we implement security countermeasures.
This document will be part of the Federal government's overarching National Response Plan, a document that outlines how the federal government responds to all types of natural as well as man-made disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, epidemics, terrorism, etc.).
Transportation is one of 13 critical infrastructure sectors covered under the National Response Plan. Some of those sectors are:
Within the Transportation sector, security plans are being developed for the following modes of transportation:
These modal security plans follow a tried and true risk assessment process -- essentially the same process that AASHTO put forward more than two years ago (May, 2002) when it published the Guide to Highway Vulnerability Assessments. It starts out with a process to define critical infrastructure. There is a hierarchy of sorts.
There are truly nationally significant facilities -- those upon which the national economy depends, which are vital to our military response, or which are symbols of this nation. These are of particular interest to us and to DHS. But there are also regionally significant facilities, those that are critical to commerce within a region or metropolitan area -- critical supply routes for major industries or goods like chlorine for water treatment plants.
I asked our FHWA division administrators in SASHTO states to name some of these significant facilities. As you might guess, they often mentioned critical river crossings, especially over the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Loss of any of these links (and many others time does not allow me to mention) would mean harsh economic impacts to the region and the nation as well.
After critical infrastructure is identified, effective countermeasures should be developed to protect it in the event of an attack. Security plans are risk reduction programs that every owner of critical infrastructure should develop. Privately, we take out insurance to cover us in the event of an accident, injury, or loss of our home.
Similarly, owners of key infrastructure have a significant investment to protect. You can bet that the owners of privately held transportation infrastructure (toll bridges, border crossings) have taken a hard look at how they can protect their assets -- the generators of their revenue stream.
We know that state and local governments are taking a look at how they can/should protect their investments, not only because it may cost a lot of money to replace the facility, but also because of the potential impact to their state, region, or local economy.
Now, there can be trade offs in terms of countermeasures. Maybe we do not have the resources to implement a permanent countermeasure like retrofitting the structure to withstand the impact of a blast load, or adding more cross bracing to prevent total collapse of the structure, but we can enhance surveillance and detection strategies during periods of high alert to deter an attack.
These strategies can start with human surveillance -- that may not be cheap in the long run, but it is something you can implement quickly. Then there are video surveillance and intrusion detection strategies that can be linked into an existing traffic management center to provide an alert to possible suspect activities.
These strategies give you a means of determining if it is a "pigeon or a person" and then to summon an appropriate emergency response or to sound a warning.
We would expect that as budgets permit, human surveillance and protection of critical infrastructure could gradually be replaced by more permanent protection strategies such as strengthening, or the creation of "standoff distance." That means creating a barrier to direct physical access to key elements of infrastructure. This distance is a most effective "insulation" for the effects of a blast. These elements are also something that should be addressed in the development of new projects.
After we've defined critical infrastructure and identified countermeasures to protect it, the next step in the NTSSP process is the implementation of protective programs -- a comprehensive security plan for a facility that is integrated with the emergency response plan for the whole region.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a well-designed and rehearsed emergency response plan -- it is truly the most cost effective countermeasure you can put in place to respond to all types of emergencies.
We can all hope that we will not have to respond to a terrorist attack, but we know we will have to respond to emergencies, such as Hurricane Charley's devastating run through Florida. Planning and practice saves lives and reduces the impact of most emergencies.
Just as a response plan is an essential element of a thorough security plan, we should be developing and enhancing our options for the quick restoration of damaged or destroyed infrastructure. Take, for example, the I-95 bridge in Connecticut that was destroyed on March 25 by a tanker truck loaded with fuel oil. It effectively shut down the corridor, but the state and FHWA pulled out all the stops and within five days, the route was open again. Constructing the permanent replacement structure will take some time, but the overall flow of commerce has been restored.
The same is true for the bridge collapse on I-40 in Oklahoma in 2002 when a barge slammed into it. A lengthy detour had to be established but again, the state and FHWA pulled out all the stops and had the spans replaced in 64 days.
Finally, the NTSSP has a section on performance measurement -- you cannot escape performance planning even in an emergency.
Knowing whether or not we are being successful in reducing the risk of an attack and its consequences is good government. It is what is expected of us who serve the public. And we should ask ourselves:
Having a performance measurement process is key to making sure we are on the right track.
MAKE SECURITY PART OF PROJECT DEVELOPMENT
Security issues are best addressed during the early stages of a project's development. The environmental process provides a great opportunity to consider security issues along with other engineering and environmental/social issues and develop effective solutions during the design and construction process. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is applicable in the case of new facilities too.
Two more points.
First, the NTSSP asks each mode to secure freight flows that use its infrastructure. Ships and ports are responsible for cargo while it is in their possession; highways and rail are similarly responsible for the security of the freight traveling over their systems.
There are a number of efforts currently underway to enhance cargo security through surveillance and detection systems, container security initiatives, chain of custody protocols, driver and vehicle identification systems, secure shipper programs, and the integration of all of these at intermodal transfer sites like ports and terminals and at border crossings.
How the state and local transportation agencies -- the ones that own and maintain highways -- will figure into these security programs is not yet clear.
Cargo security is most definitely a work in progress, but one that is of great concern to officials throughout the security field since overall freight may come close to doubling by 2020. Risks are high in terms of a container or van loaded in a distant location with a device that it set to go off at a time or place determined by a terrorist.
This is an area where we need to pay close attention to what is happening on the technology front as well as the kind of information we are getting in terms of threats against this country.
NEED FOR TIMELY INFORMATION
And that leads me to my final security point -- the need for timely information on threats and evolving situations.
The Washington Post ran a story earlier this summer about a situation involving a tugboat operator that witnessed a small aircraft flying erratically and appearing to spread a dark liquid as it flew. The tugboat captain reported the incident to the Coast Guard who contacted the Homeland Security Operations Center in Washington within minutes. Ultimately it was determined by a dispatched sheriff's deputy that this was not a terrorist incident in the making. The pilot was found to be under the influence of alcohol and illegal substances and he was arrested.
The point is that state and local governments, the owners and operators of transportation infrastructure, need to be connected to the flow of this information so that you can be prepared to react to situations as they unfold.
The best security plan is only as good as the information that is used to implement it. If you are not aware of a threat, you are not prepared to respond. To that end, we urge state highway departments to become familiar with their state homeland security agency.
State DOTs need to be a full-fledged partner in the development and implementation of security plans for critical infrastructure in the state, and to be active participants in the emergency response planning activities and exercises conducted by those agencies. DOTs should not just piggyback on a state emergency plan. Not only will you be better prepared to react, but you will also have access to information more quickly than if you depend on it coming through other channels.
We need to establish an ongoing and active partnership with other emergency responders. We need to understand how to work with other responders and what roles each of us will play to get our job done quickly and safely.
We all benefit from working together on drills and exercises, addressing all types of incidents, large and small.