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Securing security measures: TSA works to implement standards for U.S. HSR systems


High-speed rail (HSR) systems in the United States are years away from completion, but the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) already is working to establish security practices for the mode.

Last year, TSA officials in the mass transit and passenger-rail security division decided to begin actively developing security standards for future HSR systems. It’s best to implement security measures prior to beginning construction or detailed design work so that security measures can be integrated, according to a TSA official.

However, TSA officials realized that in order to obtain expert opinions on how to shape security standards, they would have to work with people who had implemented security measures on other high-speed systems — and for that, TSA had to round up security experts from overseas.

In September 2011, TSA held a meeting of the minds in Baltimore, bringing in 30 international HSR security experts to discuss how security measures had been implemented on systems in countries such as France, Germany, Japan and Europe, and how those measures could be adapted for U.S. HSR systems. TSA officials promised participants that by the end of the three-day conference, they would have a copy of best practices for U.S. high-speed rail security in hand to take with them.

And participants played an active role in creating that document. Participants were divided into three working groups: one focused on security operations for law enforcement officials; another that examined elements of a security plan, including best practices and training exercises; and a third that focused on how to protect HSR infrastructure by analyzing station design elements and right-of-way protections.

A group of facilitators and record keepers were on hand to monitor the activity within the working groups. Once the meeting adjourned for the day, those facilitators and record keepers worked with TSA officials to write up best security practices based on the day’s collaboration. When the meeting re-adjourned the next morning, participants had a living document to review, edit and discuss.

The group will meet again Feb. 15-17 in San Francisco to refine the best practices established during the Baltimore meeting. This time, more than 40 international experts will participate. The TSA official couldn’t discuss in detail what the working group would be discussing, but did say participants would be looking at passive measures in station design that can contribute to security. For example, security measures can be integrated with station-area components such as shrubbery, stairways and doors, he said.

Since the Baltimore meeting, the working group has kept in touch through conference calls and, more often, a web board, which enables group members to post, analyze and share information without having to factor in the various time zones where members are located.

And the working group likely will continue its communication after the San Francisco meeting. Security experts appreciate the opportunity to discuss practices and measures with other industry colleagues, the TSA official said. Security officials within the rail industry are particularly open to collaboration since many rail systems connect with or feed into one another, he added.

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/16/2012