The surface transportation system is vital to our nation's economy, defense, and quality of life. Because threats against the system have hitherto been perceived as minor, little attention has been paid to its security. But the world is changing, as highlighted by dramatic incidents such as the terrorist chemical attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. As a consequence, security concerns are now attracting more attention—appropriately so, for the threat is real, and responding to it is hard. Although the surface transportation system is remarkably resilient, it is also open and decentralized, making a security response challenging. Research and development can contribute to that response in important ways.
The first step is to develop a better understanding of the problem. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has already begun this effort by assessing the surface transportation system's vulnerability to hostile attacks. The present study finds that assessment to be a valuable and commendable foundation. Further work is needed in some areas, particularly regarding chemical, biological, and cyber attacks, and especially the strategic vulnerability of the surface transportation system as a whole that may result from internal and external interdependencies.
All aspects of this problem are still new and relatively ill defined in comparison with other, more established fields, such as aviation security. DOT must continue its efforts to improve its understanding of the problem. The assessment of vulnerabilities should be ongoing and should be expanded to include systemic vulnerabilities beyond local damage and disruption. Intelligence efforts to identify likely threats should continue. An analysis of past incidents, including
natural disasters and major accidents, which have many similarities with intentional attacks, should seek to identify both best practices and areas of technology need. Research and development must always be recognized as part of this broader picture.
DOT's first priority in setting up a research and development program for the security of surface transportation should be to define and put in place a clear and comprehensive strategy. That strategy should be founded on a systematic process of five steps: clear definition of the problem and objectives, identification of a wide variety of possible solutions, rigorous evaluation of those alternatives, careful decision making, and effective implementation. This process should be implemented across transportation modes, rather than separately for each mode. It should be coordinated proactively with other agencies, and DOT should understand and clearly delineate the boundaries of its role relative to those agencies. A variety of stakeholders from inside and outside the government should be involved closely, through mechanisms such as workshops to help evaluate proposed activities. As the effort grows, DOT will increasingly need a way to protect information that is sensitive but not classified. Finally, and perhaps most important, the strategy must recognize the vital importance of involving the owners and operators of surface transportation, whose participation in the process and acceptance of its objectives will ultimately determine whether the results are actually implemented and security is actually improved.
Some important themes emerge from analysis of this strategy. First, a dual-use approach, in which security objectives are furthered at the same time as other transportation goals, can encourage the implementation of security technologies and processes. Second, modeling could be used more to develop a better understanding of the scope of the security problem. Third, DOT can play an important role in developing and disseminating information about best practices that use existing technologies and processes, including low-technology alternatives. Finally, security should be considered as part of a broader picture, not a wholly new and different problem but one that is similar and closely connected to the transportation community's previous experience in responding to accidents, natural disasters, and hazardous materials.
Specific findings and recommendations are summarized at the end of each chapter and are presented for reference in Chapter 5.