Monday, July 18, 2005

Protecting transit

Last week, Anne Applebaum had an op-ed in the Post in which she basically argued that we shouldn't spend homeland security dollars on transit because you can't really protect de-centralized, open access systems like trains. I thought she made a pretty good point. I mean, if there's 110 miles of Metro rail in DC and 86 stations, there's a lot of points of entry for a dedicated terrorist.

Mike the Mad Biolgist points out the folly of this argument. Namely, it's a mistake to think that homeland security money is going to be spent to prevent a terrorist attack. That's highly unlikely. However, you can spend a lot of money, very effectively, to reduce the impact of a terrorist event. He points out a fact I was unaware of: the London subway has backup ventilation and communications. No doubt, these proved valuable in clearing out smoke and allowing coordinated rescue efforts. Do American transit systems have these backups in place? If not, wouldn't that be a good way to spend homeland security money? Likewise, are there other structural or management changes that could be made to American transit that would mitigate the possible effects of a terrorist attack?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'm having second thoughts about Applebaum's conclusion. I know homeland security dollars include vast quantities of pork, but maybe just maybe our transit systems could use a little bit of that wisely.