Exclusive Q&A: ADT's Barry Einsig on Securing Mass Transit Facilities

Oct. 27, 2005
Einsig on why it's unfair to compare with airports, why we need to integrate systems, and how the culture of security is changing

In advance of his webinar on MassTransitMag.com, SIW editor Geoff Kohl sat down with ADT's chief Transportation Security Specialist Barry Einsig to get his perspective on what's happening in security for transit systems today.

Having worked on some of the nation's top transit systems, including Atlanta's MARTA system, D.C.'s WMATA system, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Einsig has a unique perspective of what is driving security policy and technology changes. His involvement with committees of the American Public Transportation Association keeps him abreast of what's happening at a variety of agencies, whether they're small city systems or of the large metropolitan variety.

He'll be sharing more of those insights in a free webinar hosted by ADT and Mass Transit Magazine on Wednesday, Nov. 2 - sign up here -- but enjoy this exclusive Q&A with SecurityInfoWatch.com to hear how Einsig's thoughts on incident command changes, access control and why it's time to integrate electronic security and operations for the mass transit industry.

Barry, you're often in the thick of designing and consulting on transportation security systems, so what are you seeing in terms of trends of integrating electronic security systems (and video) in mass transit operations today?

I think it's safe to say that the integration of these systems is in its infancy. Prior to some of the recent incidents, most transit agencies really had very minimal security systems. They may have had a basic intrusion detection system for crime and break-ins, and they may have had cameras running for liability issues like slip-and-fall scenarios, but these systems were typically separate.

Even today, I'm seeing electronic security built as separate technology systems. I think that some of that is due to the design and contracting work, but even beyond that, we're seeing individual RFPs -- an RFP here for a video system, an RFP there for an access control system. But we're not often seeing RFPs for truly integrated systems.

Is that mindset starting to change? Are transit agencies starting to see security as a mission critical process?

I think it's starting to change. There are some people in the industry who are visionaries on this. The APTA recently polled its members to find out what funds they needed for security improvements. The members said that $6 billion was needed, with $5.2 billion of that for capital expenditures and $800,000 for operational expenditures. What I think that says is that, conceptually, they're starting to get it. But you're still changing the mindset of an entire industry that in some cases even saw badging as a separate system than access control.

Immediately following the Spain bombings, then the London bombings and then recently with the false alarm against the New York metro system, there were a number of cries from politicians and even the general public saying that we need to screen everyone who seeks to use a transit system. Is this type of screening feasible at all? Is it in mass transit's future?

Nothing drives people in transit crazier than being compared to the airports. Part of it is that there just aren't as many locked-down doors. I think someday transit security will be more similar to airport security, but before that can occur the technology and policies are going to have to change.

People have to understand the transit culture and environment more closely. You find some [persons] who talk about biometrics and other cutting-edge technologies. But the reality is that transit is a harsh environment, when you have concerns like train brake dust which interfere with technology like biometrics.

There are also policy differences. It's now a TSA requirement that you have to be checked in 40 minutes before your flight to get on the plane. But how do you do that in a transit environment, when 20 seconds is too long and they have to be at their desks in 20 minutes?

The initial response to threats against transit facilities has been to shift a lot of heavily armed police and dog teams to mass transit stations. You've been exploring tools like intelligent video to help secure mass transit assets. What are some of the possibilities?

I think there are a number of potential applications for intelligent video. One example is a rail yard; these are often the most vulnerable places in the entire system. We're looking at using intelligent video for perimeter security where it can detect intruders in an area where otherwise it's hard to control access.

How has access control at transit facilities been changing? Can we lock-down these facilities?

In terms of facilities, the above-ground stations are the more prevalent stations, except perhaps in New York. Those kinds of facilities don't preclude it [a lock-down] but they do force you to think differently about it. If you look at airports, for example, most of the facility is closed to your customers, and only a select portion is open. In transit it's really the converse, where the only things you're locking down are the offices and booths.

In a whitepaper you published titled "Command, Control and Communication: Managing Electronic Security Systems for Increased Efficiency and Emergency Response," you started to deal with issues of alternative locations for transit agencies' command and control centers. What's happened in that arena since your whitepaper?

First some history: The traditional approach was to put the command center right there on the track bed. Now we've realized that the track bed and commuter areas are targets themselves, and those control centers become targets just by proximity.

Today, we're starting to see that most of the bigger transit agencies are recognizing this, and are creating control centers in remote locations so that there's redundancy in the system. In fact, most are using these new, remote centers as the primary control center, and are just leaving the original command center as the redundant center that only is staffed if they can't work out of the remote center. They're setting these old centers up so that they just have to come in, turn on the lights and power up the equipment and they're back in control.

What else is changing in terms of incident management other than the creation of redundant control centers?

I think we're starting to see communication between agencies and between agencies and responders. Incident command for non-terrorist actions is driving that communication.

Look at New Orleans -- there wasn't a coordinated plan. At one point, they wanted to use buses in New Orleans for the post-hurricane evacuation. But the buses were sitting empty or even flooded; they were abandoned because there was no plan to call their drivers in to operate these vehicles. And there wasn't the follow-up plan on how they were going to take care of their drivers' families when they were called away from them in the middle of this disaster.

So they're having to create the incident response plans, and you can't count on FEMA to do that. APTA [the American Public Transportation Association, see www.apta.com] has a new piece out on incident command and it covers how incident command will drive security improvements. The industry is realizing now that incident command resources can be used not just for terrorism, but for natural disaster and even festivals and special events-type scenarios.

The problem, of course, with trying to provide security and operational equipment just for terrorism is that while the damage potential is high, the likelihood is so low that it becomes hard to justify. But if you can show that you can use these resources for command control of a variety of incidents and situations, then you can justify these expenditures.

Learn more:
Hear more of Einsig's thoughts on Nov. 2, 2005, at 1 p.m. EST via a free webinar from Mass Transit Magazine dealing with intelligent video and security at mass transit facilities. Sign up here. Event will be archived at this same link within 72 hours following the live presentation.