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transit security, and other myths

By enelson
Tuesday, May 9th, 2006 at 10:15 pm in Security.

I just got this e-mail from the Mineta Transportation Institute, created by an act of Congress on the campus of San Jose State, saying that the institute has a program to train transportation professionals in dealing with security issues.
bus bombing.JPG The course promises the following:

“In light of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, fortifying the security of our transportation system is of utmost importance to transportation agencies,” says MTI Executive Director Rod Diridon, Sr. “It is critical to educate and train our students in these areas, and simultaneously research and investigate new ways to secure our mass transit systems. We are continually looking for ways to respond to identified security needs.”

… the certificate will consist of two required courses — Emergency Management for Transportation Professionals and Security Issues for Transportation Professionals — along with two core courses from the current graduate-level transportation management curriculum. Students may apply the credits earned from the certificate program towards MTI¬ís 30-unit Master of Science in Transportation Management. The courses will be taught by MTI Research Associate Dr. Frances L. Edwards, a renowned disaster response expert.

I’m sure it’s a fine program, up to a point. I feel a lot safer on aircraft these days, and there’s enough going on with airport security to keep several PhD programs going.

But as any Tel Aviv or Baghdad commuter can tell you, even the most accomplished security apparatus in the world can’t stop a homicidally misguided young man or woman from strapping themselves with explosives, stepping onto a bus and killing a couple dozen men, women and children.

Even in places you could control rather easily, such as a BART station, the public wouldn’t tolerate security people looking through their bags and wanding them with metal detectors as they approached the gates. I mean, you can’t even get away with that at the ballpark without getting sued.

In Israel they don’t sue quite so much, and they don’t believe in skimping on security. It helps that people have a very immediate fear of being blown up.

We’re lucky here. Either the bombers have decided to save their powder for a bigger bang, or they’re too busy elsewhere in the world.

But make no mistake. When they decide it’s time, they can blow up buses and subway cars as easily — probably more so — as is done in Israel. Then we’d see what the Israelis see every day: The guards, the metal detectors and the suspicious looks for anyone who doesn’t fit a benign ethnic stereotype.

No matter which side of the political spectrum you hail from, that’s where you discover the meaning of terrorism. It’s not just the act of multiple simultaneous murder. It’s what it does to us, the survivors.

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