DHS unveils rail measures

In the wake of the recent terrorist bombings in Madrid, the Homeland Security Department today announced several initiatives, including development of some chemical and biological countermeasure technologies, to improve the security of the country's transit and rail systems.

The new initiatives center around three specific areas: threat response, including bomb-sniffing dogs and screening luggage and carry-ons; public awareness; and technology innovations.

DHS' Science and Technology Directorate will focus on chemical, biological and high explosives countermeasures to enhance detection and response to such threats to transit systems. According to the department, the president requested $407 million for biological countermeasures development and $63 million for chemical and high-explosive countermeasures in the fiscal 2005 budget.

Within the next several months, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency will also release a broad agency announcement focusing on research and development of high explosive countermeasures. The objective would be to develop and test equipment, technology and procedures to stop suicide bombers and car and truck bombs before reaching their targets.

Last week, Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for DHS' Border and Transportation Security Directorate, said the department has been "ahead of the curve" on rail transit security even before the Madrid rail bombings, which killed more than 200 people and injured more than 1,800.

During testimony before a subcommittee of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Hutchinson said the department since May has provided $115 million in Urban Areas Security Initiative grants that can be used for improving rail and transit security. Other major metropolitan areas have also made improvements, including increased video surveillance, intrusion detection equipment, and high-tech fencing and lighting.

Some lawmakers said that the department spends much more on airline security than on other forms of transportation. Less than 3 percent of the Transportation Security Administration's $5.3 billion budget request for fiscal 2005 is dedicated to nonair transportation, said Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas).

"This area obviously has not been a core concern of the department nor the Congress, and I think this must change," he said.

More than $2 billion may be needed to provide security for ground and ferry transport, he said. That figure includes estimates for sensors, communications equipment and security cameras, Turner said.

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