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TSA Tests New Mass Transit Security Technology

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are on the lookout for new technologies to help address threats to mass transit systems, but they are not regularly sharing their findings with mass transit operators.

Mass transit systems and hubs, especially for surface transportation such as buses or trains, generally rely on an open infrastructure without strict access control, making these areas difficult to monitor and secure. Technological solutions such as video analytics have been touted as a possible solution to mitigate some of these risks.

According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), TSA tests the effectiveness of commercially available technologies that can scan crowds for hidden threat items on travelers or detect abandoned items. TSA, the Science and Technology Directorate, and mass transit stakeholders collaborate to identify mass transit capability gaps and test security tools to address those gaps.

Mass transit rail operators are responsible for securing their own systems—unlike aviation operators—but they regularly partner with the TSA and DHS to address security needs through vulnerability assessments, sharing intelligence and best practices, and assessing commercially available security technologies.

From fiscal years 2013 through 2018, TSA sponsored laboratory and field tests of approximately 110 commercial products designed to address gaps in surface transportation security, such as intrusion detection or explosive detection. The results of these tests, when shared with mass transit officials, were helpful in determining whether to invest in the products.

According to the GAO report, however, TSA officials do not routinely share security technology information with operators because many reports contain sensitive information. The TSA office responsible for the testing program lacks resources to develop and maintain a repository that would allow transit operators to retrieve sensitive information independently.