State’s terror plans faulty?

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Lt. Patrick Jordan, who helps oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Transit Services Bureau, which patrols the MTA and Metrolink systems, said he believes his agencies are prepared to deal with a response to an attack. “We’re very prepared for a response mode,” said Jordan. “We’ve conducted several multiagency drills … so first responders throughout the service area are familiar with the system, and the needs of the system, in the event an attack should happen.” The experts – who reviewed dozens of spending items in the records of the six agencies – noted that some of the six agencies’ purchases have been cost-effective, including bomb-sniffing dogs, improved communications equipment and tighter security at maintenance and parking areas. MTA transit police have said that while they’re open to ways to screen passengers, for now they are using their federal money on video cameras, staff drills and additional police dogs. Some agencies also have purchased such basic equipment and items as plasma televisions, personal protective equipment, padlocks, surveillance cameras, radios, alarms, handheld bomb detectors and motion detectors, fences and fiber-optic equipment. SACRAMENTO – California’s transit agencies – including Los Angeles’ MTA – are throwing too much of their scarce federal funding into preventing a hard-to-stop terrorist attack and too little toward preparing for an attack’s aftermath, according to an analysis by security experts. In a review of six major transit agencies’ spending of $15.5 million in federal funds over the past two years, top U.S. and British counterterrorism analysts said more should be spent on emergency-response plans – primarily because it’s nearly impossible to fully secure big-city transit systems with thousands of riders. “I was surprised there was so little emphasis on the response and recovery plan,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a counterterrorism researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “It’s sort of a smorgasbord approach. I’m not sure some of the money is well spent or well thought out to be efficient.” Transit agencies defended their approaches, saying the prevention of an attack must be the top priority. And officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said they are prepared for both – a possible attack and its aftermath. Such spending “reinforces the point that transit agencies are at square one with respect to responding to terrorist threats,” said James Moore, a public-transit expert at the University of Southern California’s Homeland Security Center. MTA officials said they have purchased some emergency-response gear and are studying where additional security gaps might exist in the system. Surveillance cameras are another costly but not necessarily effective expense that has sapped millions of dollars in California agencies’ spending. Such cameras helped British authorities quickly investigate the London suicide bombers and can help minimize robberies and assaults. They also might deter terrorists who aren’t willing to give up their lives, said Brian Jenkins, a counterterrorism expert with the Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. But the London attacks also show the limitations of cameras. In London, the world’s most extensive video system recorded the bombers practicing their attack but didn’t deter them. Experts also questioned the effectiveness of many of the other preventive measures the transit agencies are adopting. For example, Metrolink allocated $120,000 for four handheld bomb-detection devices, while San Francisco Bay ferries are testing airline-style systems to detect explosives. Such devices are generally ineffective because terrorists know there is little chance they’ll be detected in the random searches that are practical for mass transit, said Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counterterrorism intelligence officer with the London Metropolitan Police. Even when agencies were spending money on response, experts questioned some of those expenses. Los Angeles’ MTA had planned to spend $150,000 for 1,850 breathing masks – one for every employee who works in the agency’s 27-story headquarters – should terrorists start a fire there. The federal government identified the building as a “potential high-threat target.” But Moore, the USC homeland security expert, said that spending is “probably pointless” in helping the MTA prepare its response to an attack on its bus and train system, which moves 1.45 million riders a day. MTA officials said they ultimately decided not to buy the masks, although Jordan said the agency believes its headquarters is a key part of its transit system. Officials said the MTA and its employees need to be able to respond to any emergency, so protecting the employees is a key focus. Experts said agencies’ best use of money would be to conduct constant drills for emergencies. There also should be detailed yet flexible plans to quickly communicate with the public and to move commuters around choke points so as much of the transit system as possible can continue operating. But the effectiveness of emergency responders is improving, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Capt. Dan Finkelstein. He pointed to a January crash in which a man abandoned his Jeep on commuter rail tracks in suburban Glendale, causing two trains to collide and killing 11 people. In part because the systems conduct multiagency drills twice each year, “the response was about as seamless as it could be,” said Finkelstein, who acts as police chief for the MTA as well as Metrolink. Tragic as the collision was, experts said it demonstrates that transit agencies need to be prepared for such emergencies at all times. “The phenomenon of the suicide bomber means any traditional measures of detection and interception are likely to be ineffective,” Mike Brown, chief operating officer of the London Underground, told the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month. “Effective response is therefore key.” Daily News Staff Writer Lisa Mascaro contributed local information to this report. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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