The challenges of securing the NYC transit systemBy
A few weeks ago in early April, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released his eighth progress report on the state of the MTA’s capital security program. For a variety of reasons not related to the content of the report, I didn’t have a chance then to cover it then, but it’s worth our attention. As DiNapoli has noted in the past, thanks in part to a legal spat with a contractor and in part to ambitious expectations, the MTA has simply been unable to meet its schedule for implementation.
DiNapoli’s latest missive, available here as a PDF, sheds little light on what the MTA is doing. The bulk of that information has been omitted for security reasons. But the work accomplished has not moved along briskly. The so-called Phase 1 projects wrapped in February with the notable exception of the electronic security program, and that program is two years late and significantly over budget.
The original security program was a part of the 2000-2004 Capital Plan, submitted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, the MTA expected to spend $591 million on a variety of security improvements targeting the most vulnerable and high-trafficked areas. Spending has ballooned to $882 million, and as we approach the 11th anniversary of the attacks, the electronic monitoring project, seemingly the centerpiece of Phase 1, is not expected to be ready until June 2014. By itself, it will cost $516 million, nearly double the original projection.
Electronic monitoring is fairly self-explanatory. The MTA plans to install 3000 cameras and 1400 access-control devices that are to be monitore at six area command centers and one central command center. Once this monitoring system is up and running, though, the challenges do not stop. As DiNapoli said, “Once installed, maintaining these devices in the mass transit environment will be an ongoing challenge.”
The challenges causing this delay are not entirely surprising. Four various agencies are trying to work in concert to bring 21st century equipment into a late-19th/early 20th century system. Electronics storage rooms frequently overheat; fiber optics networks degrade rapidly; and more facilities have been required. As DiNapoli notes, “Nearly half of the increased cost is due to the inclusion of additional facilities ($110 million), with most of the balance due to unplanned costs associated with facilities to house the command and control centers ($51 million) and the upgrading and repair of computer networks ($33 million).”
Meanwhile, the MTA and Lockheed Martin are fighting over the original contract. Lockheed claims the MTA did not provide needed access while the MTA has filed a counter-suit alleging various breaches of contract. The suits were filed three years ago, and the parties are still arguing.
While DiNapoli’s report doesn’t touch upon the ultimate issue, it’s worth a brief digression: Is this spending worth it? The New York City subways have been targeted in failed terrorist attacks. Thanks to better monitoring of terrorist threats, the feds and the NYPD have been able to head off attacks before they reach critical stages. Yet, our system remains a vulnerable target whether we like to dwell on that or not. To combat that, the MTA must spend on security, and it must spend on maintaining the security system for the foreseeable future. That’s not a cheap proposition, and I’m sure there’s a right or good answer here.
DiNapoli, though, tried to find some optimism. The MTA will be deferring six security projects to do the ever-popular lack of funding, but the authority has made some strides. “While the MTA’s capital security program has taken far longer and cost more than planned to complete, the regional transit system is more secure and the public better protected today,” DiNapoli said. “Further security improvements are needed and finding the necessary resources must be a priority for the MTA.”