Home MTA Economics Paper: City subways hard to secure from possible attacks

Paper: City subways hard to secure from possible attacks

by Benjamin Kabak

Bag inspectors working to guard the City’s subways. (Courtesy of flickr user Runs With Scissors.)

I’m not exactly going out a limb if I were to state: “New York City and, in particular, the subways should be considered high priority homeland security targets.” No, around these parts, that’s fairly common knowledge.

But 230 miles to the south, those in charge of the federal purse strings have been loathe to see things our way. The Department of Homeland Security, led and created by those Republicans who aren’t beholden to a New York voter base, has hardly been forthcoming in giving New York the money it needs to adequately protect itself from another possible terrorist attack. As the media has documented, low-population states such as Wyoming have long received more money per person than the coastal states. Wyoming is no terrorist target when compared to New York, Boston, Los Angeles or other coastal cities.

In fact, DHS did such a good job allocating money that last year, grants to Washington, D.C. and New York City were slashed. That means less money for the subway, less money for the ports, less money for the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and even the Washington Monument and Capitol building. That’s smart government.

So then, it comes as no surprise that U.S.A. Today recently noted that it is nearly impossible to protect the city’s subway system. Mimi Hall reported:

It has been a difficult, time-consuming effort just to get the work going, says William Morange, the transit authority’s security director. There are no 100-year-old records left behind to guide workers. No detailed descriptions of which parts of which tunnels were built in bedrock and which were dug out of silt.

Schiliro calls the MTA’s construction and other security upgrades “incremental risk reduction.” He says none of the nation’s subway systems will be as safe as they could be and should be without more help and money from the federal government.

This story is your typical “how to protect the subways” story, but it never hurts to see these reports in print. The litany of complaints is the same: There isn’t enough money; no government agency has ever completed an accurate risk assessment focusing on the subways in the urban (and largely liberal) areas of the country.

As U.S.A. Today noted the problem with protecting the subways, they also noted that the Democrats now in power in the halls of Congress are trying to secure more funding for subway security.

This is all well and good, but actual subway security only goes so far. There are too many access points, open areas and miles and miles of tracks to patrol. There are too many forgotten and neglected entrances and exits into the subway system, and too many nooks and crannies for everyone to inspect. I will always advocate more federal funds from DHS for security in New York City, but at the same time, I hope the Department is doing enough to protect the country from those who would perpetrate a terrorist attack in the subways. If we can prevent the terrorists — whoever they may be — from reaching the subways in the first place, we’ll have less to worry about underground as the subways continue to roll on.

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