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Safety and security on London Underground

Posted: 19 April 2007 | Geoff Dunmore, Operational Security Manager, London Underground Limited | No comments yet

The attacks of 7 July and subsequent events were unprecedented in the history of Transport for London. In its 143-year history, the Underground has faced many threats to its security, most notably from Irish Republican terrorism. Safety and security of passengers is London Underground’s top priority. Robust procedures have been developed over a number of years with the police and the security services and these remain under constant review.

London Underground has become one of the world leaders in transport counter-terrorism measures and has developed staff practices and procedures which are now part of daily Tube operations and has also incorporated many design features in the Underground infrastructure.

The attacks of 7 July and subsequent events were unprecedented in the history of Transport for London. In its 143-year history, the Underground has faced many threats to its security, most notably from Irish Republican terrorism. Safety and security of passengers is London Underground’s top priority. Robust procedures have been developed over a number of years with the police and the security services and these remain under constant review.London Underground has become one of the world leaders in transport counter-terrorism measures and has developed staff practices and procedures which are now part of daily Tube operations and has also incorporated many design features in the Underground infrastructure.

The attacks of 7 July and subsequent events were unprecedented in the history of Transport for London. In its 143-year history, the Underground has faced many threats to its security, most notably from Irish Republican terrorism. Safety and security of passengers is London Underground’s top priority. Robust procedures have been developed over a number of years with the police and the security services and these remain under constant review.

London Underground has become one of the world leaders in transport counter-terrorism measures and has developed staff practices and procedures which are now part of daily Tube operations and has also incorporated many design features in the Underground infrastructure.

Improvements to Tube security in recent decades have seen the introduction of clear lines of sight and improved lighting on platforms, the removal of litter bins from stations with litter collected in clear plastic sacks and vending machines or fire extinguisher cases that are either built into the walls or have sloping roofs, so that there are no flat surfaces on which items can be left unattended.

Seats have been designed that are perforated so it is possible to see through them, so nothing can be stuck or hidden underneath without being visible. They also have clear space underneath them for the same reason.

The improvements made to station design, lighting and CCTV, along with the removal of litter bins and changes to vending machine design, have helped deter or displace threats, both from terrorism and crime. Although attacks cannot be totally prevented, the aim is to harden the Underground network to make it an unattractive choice of target.

London Underground is a member of London Resilience Forum; a government network established in the immediate aftermath of September 11 attacks in the United States during 2001 to review contingency arrangements for London and to co-ordinate strategic pan-London emergency planning.

London Underground has 6,000 station staff with many stations having staff positioned on platforms and staff are trained and well versed in evacuation procedures. Larger stations in Central London will have 20 or more staff on shift at any one time, assisting with train despatch, safety and security and customer information.

The events of July 7 2005 clearly demonstrated that the Tube was now faced with the phenomenon of the suicide bomber, a threat previously unknown in the UK.

Unlike the aviation industry, it is not practical to make an urban mass transit system 100% safe. London’s Underground network stretches over hundreds of miles of track and tunnel with around 55% system above ground. It is an open system that carries over three million passengers per day. It is practically impossible to screen every single passenger before they travel on our network.

Instead, we have to be realistic about what can and cannot be done within the particular constraints and characteristics of our network. Whilst we cannot prevent all terrorist eventualities we can make our transport networks as hostile as possible to security threats through the provision of low and high technology solutions alongside the increased vigilance of passengers.

In 2003, there were 450 BTP officers for London Underground. Over the last two years this has increased to 670 officers.

BTP deployment patterns have been designed to be random to provide reassurance and to act as an additional deterrent. BTP also conduct random passenger searches utilising sniffer dogs.

Passengers continue to see a highly visible presence of British Transport Police across the Tube network. There is a need to balance increased Police visibility that provides reassurance with levels of visibility that cause alarm.

We constantly remind passengers to remain vigilant in alerting staff or the British Transport Police to anything suspicious and to keep their belongings safe at all times. This is an area where the media can help get the message across.

One of the biggest causes of security alerts on the Tube has been the high numbers of unattended items. Every year, over 130,000 items of lost property are dealt with by Underground staff. It is estimated that over 3.5 million items have been successfully and safely been dealt with by using the HOT protocol since its introduction in the early 1990s.

The HOT protocol

The HOT protocol is the process by which staff and police decide how to deal with unattended items. London Underground staff deal with an average of 300 unattended items each day.

HOT is based on the premise that genuinely lost items:

  • Are not – Hidden;
  • Are not – Obviously suspicious; and
  • Are – Typical of what is regularly encountered as lost property.

The ‘HOT’ procedure was designed by the BTP as the prudent way to deal with unattended baggage and packages. In essence it means that if the object is not hidden, is obvious and is typical of lost property then it is very unlikely to be a bomb. It should be carefully examined to make sure it is not suspicious and, providing this is the case, it should be removed.

However, if the item is suspicious in any way, then it should not be moved, everybody should be evacuated from the area and the Police should be called. Trains will either non-stop the station or service will be suspended. The Police use their own procedures to assess the item and deal with it appropriately.

This simple procedure has helped to greatly reduce the number of objects being declared suspicious, and thereby reduced the amount of disruption on the system. In 1992, over 2,000 unattended items were declared as suspicious based on ‘gut feel’ but by the appropriate use of HOT there were only 290 in 2004.

The ‘HOT’ procedure is not invalidated by suicide bombers – they are a completely different phenomenon.

The ‘HOT’ procedure has been adopted by many of the world’s major metro systems including San Francisco, Hong Kong and Paris as there is no better alternative.

If we didn’t use the ‘HOT’ procedure then sections of the Tube network would have to close down 200 times a day causing significant disruption to services.

The key to success in improving security on the Tube is to find the right balance between low and high technology measures.

The challenge in today’s security climate is striking the right balance between running a mass transit service that keeps London moving whilst introducing stricter security measures that, in practice, can make it harder for people to travel.

Technology is still evolving and is likely to require significant investment. London Underground needs to be clear about the objective of installing technology and clearly understand the real benefits. We will not install unproven technology.

London Underground continues to keep abreast of a range of technological solutions to improve security on the Tube.

If such technologies to reduce the threat could be developed and were proved to work reliably in a mass transit environment and were cost effective, we would introduce them.

The Connect digital radio system

Where technology has provided a significant benefit to London Underground is with the replacement for the Tube’s ageing analogue radio network. Connect is the brand new digital radio system for the Tube. It is a truly integrated network – every station, depot and control centre will be linked.

Connect will help bring improvements in train service performance, especially during incidents, by helping speed up the recovery of the service.

Connect is now live on 40 per cent of the Tube network and will be rolled-out across the rest of London Underground during 2007. The new Connect system is far more resilient than the radio network it replaces. If cable damage does occur then the radio signal can be routed around the affected area allowing the radio system to continue operating.

The roll-out of the Connect digital radio system is a vital step in the modernisation of London’s transport network. It is an advanced system that will deliver real benefits for Londoners.

The Connect system is a digital radio network like the new Airwave radio network used by UK police and emergency services.

British Transport Police, who have responsibility for policing on the Tube network, currently have radios which work underground but Airwave radios used above ground by other police forces and the fire and ambulance services do not work below ground.

A major contract has recently been signed to allow the Airwave radio network used by the police and emergency services to ‘piggy back’ on the Tube’s Connect digital radio network.

It will bring added flexibility to the way that the emergency services operate underground boosting emergency service response to any incident on the Tube and provide extra reassurance to Londoners.

London Underground meets and exchanges information with the world’s major metro systems on a regular basis particularly on counter-terrorism measures.

While technology could be deployed to make a significant contribution to deterring terrorism, one of the best anti-terrorist technologies that we have available to us is the eyes and ears of our 13,000 operational employees and our three million passengers who use the system each day.

The Customer Awareness Programme constantly reminds passengers to remain vigilant in alerting staff or the British Transport Police to anything suspicious and to keep their belongings safe at all times.

CCTV

Prior to 7 July, London Underground was already one of the world’s biggest users of CCTV and is at the forefront of its use on a mass transit system. Since 2000 the number of CCTV cameras on the Tube network has increased from just over to 6,000 to 8,324 now. The number of CCTV cameras will increase to 12,000 by 2011 as part of the ongoing station modernisation programme.

This will see the upgrading and expansion of CCTV facilities from analogue to digital and the recording of high quality images to hard drive rather than magnetic tape. This will ultimately mean that no one will be able to enter the Underground network without their face being recorded by CCTV camera. London Underground is presently considering accelerating the CCTV modernisation programme further.

Determined suicide bombers are difficult to prevent anywhere. Though they cannot necessarily be prevented, vigilant staff can deter those planning attacks, a response to such a scenario can be planned and evacuation procedures well established. There are well-laid down protocols for every threat.

London is not the only transport network to have suffered a terrorist attacks. Our colleagues in Madrid and Moscow have also had to deal with major incidents in recent years. We know that there are lessons we can learn and experiences we can share with other transport networks from around the world.

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