Collaboration Gets the MBTA into Security's Fast Lane

The history of mass transportation around the Boston and eastern Massachusetts area goes back more than four centuries. They lay claim to the first working subway system in the North America and one of the earliest motorized bus transit authorities in the...


The history of mass transportation around the Boston and eastern Massachusetts area goes back more than four centuries. They lay claim to the first working subway system in the North America and one of the earliest motorized bus transit authorities in the nation. But it has been less than five years that what is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, commonly known as the “T”, has had a centralized command and control strategy for its security operations.

That was problematic when you consider the scope of the MBTA’s operations. The MBTA is the nation’s fifth largest mass transit system, serving almost five million patrons in 176 cities and towns with an area of 3,249 square miles. The authority maintains 183 bus routes, two of which are Bus Rapid Transit lines, three rapid rail transit lines, five light rail routes, four trackless trolley lines and 13 commuter rail routes that encompass more than 145 individual commuter stations. The average weekday ridership for the entire system is approximately 1.3 million passenger trips.

It is also crucial to protect a fleet of other equipment consisting of more than 1,000 diesel and CNG buses, 32 dual mode buses, 28 ETB’s (electric trolley buses), 410 heavy rail vehicles, 200 light rail vehicles, 10 streetcars, 90 commuter rail locomotives, 410 commuter rail coaches,464 MBTA-owned specially equipped vans and sedans, and an additional 182 contractor-supplied specially equipped vans and sedans.

Prior to the establishment of the MBTA’s security and emergency management department, security issues were handled in large part by the MBTA transit police, which has primary jurisdiction on MBTA property and vehicles in each of the districts. The department has an authorized strength of more than 260 officers and 10 civilians and focuses most of their efforts patrolling Boston and the surrounding communities.

Job one for MBTA’s new security and emergency management department was bridge building with MBTA transit police, operations and IT. For a multi-faceted organization with a traditional business model, it could have been a tough sell. But not so says Randy Clarke, senior director of security and emergency management and Bradford Baker, deputy director of security & emergency management for MassDOT/MBTA.

“The biggest challenge was overcoming the organizational culture that was used to doing things as they had always done them in the past. There was some silo issues, but never really any push back,” says Baker. “In fact we had extremely quick buy-in from both the police force and upper management.”

Both Clarke and Baker had been working with the MBTA as security and technology consultants, so they were the logical choice to head the new department. When they assumed their new roles, the only cameras in the entire system were analog and were mostly used for fare evasion purposes. There was no technical or security systems staff. In 2009 the new security department finalized security assessments and created a five-year security plan.

Once the MBTA created the security and emergency management positions, the two former consultants found themselves tasked with building the foundation of a new department for one of the nation’s most dynamic transit systems. Clarke played to his strengths of organizational management and team-building, while Baker was brought in to further solidify the technology roadmap.

“I’m focused on technology,” chuckles Baker, “but I like to call Randy the director of accountability.”

For Clarke, there was the luxury of having significant DHS funding filtering into the new department. Still, the challenge and his main goal were to get this funding under control and directed into the proper projects. There was also the challenge of establishing a corporate-like security program and culture inside an extremely complex institutional business model.

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