Anti-terrorism drills staged at Metro stations
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
"What's going on?" a startled Allan Valdez, 27, asked as he approached his usual spot on the platform at the Forest Glen Metro station and found it occupied by two Metro Transit Police officers carrying automatic rifles.
"It's a random security sweep," said Officer Ryan Scheucher, a member of the force's Special Response Team.
"This morning, your station is just the lucky winner!" Scheucher told another surprised commuter.
Metro Transit Police boarded trains and inspected stations for about four hours Tuesday morning as they staged an anti-terrorism drill from Silver Spring to Glenmont and from Bethesda to Shady Grove on the Red Line. The exercise included Greenbelt Station on the Green Line, where the Greenbelt Police Department participated.
About 150 officers from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies took part in the drill, part of the Blue TIDE (Terrorism Identification and Deterrence Effort) initiative launched in February to demonstrate Metro's vigilance against terrorism. In December, Metro created a 20-member anti-terrorism unit funded by a $9.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Metro Transit Police had about 60 officers involved in Tuesday's drills, including members of the anti-terrorism, special response and K-9 explosives detection teams.
Other East Coast cities, including New York, carried out similar anti-terrorism exercises Tuesday, part of a coordinated, regional effort along the Northeast Corridor called Rail Safe, Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said. Terrorist groups have targeted large urban subway systems in London, Moscow and Mumbai in recent years.
About 100 officers from the New York Police Department were at Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and Herald Square beginning at 7 a.m., performing additional bag screenings and inspections of trains and subways.
In Washington, the heightened security presence provoked a flurry of questions from curious commuters who, on the whole, reacted positively to the drill.
Valdez, a Web specialist at the Department of Health and Human Services, called the drill "cool," and asked whether he could stand next to the police officers on the platform.
"A lot of people are coming up and saying 'thank you,' " said Metro Transit Police Sgt. Sean Flinn. Other groups participating in Blue TIDE included the Montgomery County and Rockville police, Maryland Transit Administration Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, the Federal Protective Service and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
At Forest Glen, about a dozen law enforcement officers patrolled the station, including members of the TSA's Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team.
"We are looking for people who want to harm mass transit," said David Johnson, special agent in charge at TSA and VIPR program manager. "Most people appreciate it."
Several teams of federal air marshals took part in the Metro anti-terrorism drill, as well as some "behavioral detection officers who look for people exhibiting suspicious behaviors," Johnson said.
At Greenbelt Station, the heavy police presence attracted the attention of commuter Kerry Hotopp, who e-mailed The Washington Post that he saw a Prince George's County SWAT vehicle parked at the station entrance about 9:30 a.m. "No fewer than a dozen police officers with assault rifles were present throughout the station, along with a few people in TSA uniforms," he wrote.
This is the latest in a series of anti-terrorism activities and drills for Metro. In February, Metro Transit Police staged an anti-terrorism sweep in Union Station during the morning rush hour. In March, transit police simulated explosions on a train and a bus to test their coordination with other regional agencies.