Thursday, September 20, 2012

`War On Terror Is Lost On Grand Central Station

New York City’s Metro North Bombs At Security
MTA Does Not Appear Prepared – 11 Years After 9/11

I will have been commuting to New York’s Grand Central Station for the past nine years from Westchester, come October 1st. During this post-September 11 era I have seen tons of police present at the train depot, as well as soldiers armed with guns bigger than my dog. But today I see how vulnerable we are to attack – not because scheming terrorists are so smart, but because those responsible for the safety of hundreds of thousands of daily commuters, visitors, and workers are incompetent. I fear that their mistakes will one day cost lives.

Metro North,  a part of the Mass Transit Authority (MTA), operates out of the world’s largest train station. Too bad its leadership lacks similar grandiosity. Actually, I would just settle for bare minimum common sense.

Here is what has me roiled up. Last week, just a few days removed from the anniversary of 9.11 and fresh Middle East attacks on America’s embassies, I witnessed firsthand how inept the security system is at a major terrorist target.

I rushed to make a 6:19pm train to head home in time to kick off the weekend with my family. Instead, the train got delayed because a package was left suspiciously unattended in the first car. Acting under the MTA’s famed slogan, “If you see something, say something,” the train’s conductor learned of the package and followed protocol to ask for a police dog to come check it out. In this day and age nothing can be left to chance.

Everyone on the train heard the motorman make the conductor aware of the situation. A few people left the train, but most stayed, probably hoping as I did that the problem would be addressed immediately.

It is likely the package is absolutely nothing more than someone forgetting their stuff, but in these terror-sensitive days everything needs to be checked out and then dismissed. One day it will be a real bomb and only safety procedures that are implemented and followed will give us a fighting chance of providing protection to citizens.

For all anyone knew, this package was a bomb and could have blown us up while we just sat there waiting for a dog to come sniff away. And that is the problem.

If you take abandoned packages seriously enough to check them out and hold up a train, then move your ass and get on it. Act with a sense of real urgency. I don’t know how long it took for them to finally get a dog over there, for after waiting 10 minutes for the dog to show up I got off and took another train that was leaving soon. Was this dog (Is there only one?) so busy or on a dinner break that it could not trot over to sniff the bag?

Meanwhile, while I had been sitting there on the train that could blow up, shouldn’t the conductor have forced people to get off and evacuate the train, as a precaution? Instead, the conductor closed the doors in hopes of being able to pull out quickly once the dog was to come and do its thing, or so said the overhead announcement.

This is bullshit. Either jeopardize our safety and ignore the package OR take it seriously and move your butt to do everything possible to resolve the matter quickly. The response time seemed unacceptable to me. A split-personality mediocrity runs security. They feel obligated to check out the package but not rushed enough to do it in a meaningful, timely fashion that could actually make a life-death difference. This kind of attitude and approach is terrible because you get the worst of everything – a delayed train and an excellent shot at being blown up by a terrorist attack.

After thinking for several days about what had happened with the police’s failure to handle this package properly, I visited the MTA Police Office at Grand Central Station. I inquired about what was standard procedure for the situation that had arisen.

Unfortunately, they told me what I was afraid I would hear.

One officer said: “It could be one hour, two hours or ten minutes for the response time. It depends on how many dogs are working that day or where they are at the moment a request comes in. Sometimes we have five dogs; other days two.”

Wow, two hours, really? The MTA can afford to have a train out of commission for two hours? Can the public’s safety be put at risk for that same time?

When I asked another officer about this, she said: “You should get as far away from the train as possible.” No kidding, so why didn’t the conductor demand that people get off the train? “Because we don’t want to panic the public.” So they would rather put people’s well-being at risk instead.

One factor in response time depends on how many dogs are working in a given day. If they don’t have enough sniff dogs on the job, shouldn’t they get more of them? And why should the amount of dogs on the job vary by the day of the week? Did a dog bark in sick?

It is easy for me to second-guess, not knowing all of the facts, budgets, and politics involved, but it is also easy to see there is a problem here. We, as a nation, are lucky no other major attacks have taken place, for it is clear we cannot do much to defend against them. And of the things we could easily control, i.e. get more dogs, we fail to do.

This incident is a microcosm of how our government works overall, which is to say, poorly. It is a shame, because our lives are at stake.

Despite this, the MTA is said to raise fares come this spring by as much as 7 – 10%. I guess more of that is going to security – not.

Brian Feinblum can be followed on Twitter @theprexpert or you can email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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