How can cities protect metro systems from terrorism?

Wreaths of flowers on the ground near the Maalbeek subway station in Brussels after a 2016 terrorist attack. Image: Getty.

Since the start of the millennium, hundreds of passengers have been killed and thousands injured by bombings on metro rail systems. These systems are particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a weakness which has been exploited by more than 150 terrorist organisations – ranging from ultra-left extremists to religious fanatics – to target commuters in 64 different countries over the past four decades.

Madrid’s Cercanias commuter train system was hit in 2004, London’s Underground in 2005, Mumbai’s suburban rail network in 2008 and Moscow’s metro in 2010. More recently, bombings took place in Brussels in 2016 and again on the London Underground at Parsons’ Green Station in September 2017.

There are certain factors which make metro rail systems particularly vulnerable to attacks like these – but there are also several measures that authorities can take to make them safer.

Security measures are weak at most train stations – and there’s a high concentration of people. This makes them prime targets for terrorists looking to carry out mass casualty attacks using IEDs. IEDs have been a weapon of choice for three main reasons: they’re easy to acquire, there’s a low risk of detection and the potential impact is huge.

IEDs are relatively inexpensive to build, and the internet has emerged as a valuable source for terrorists to share detailed instructions on how to assemble a wide range of bombs. Once put together, IEDs can be smuggled onto packed commuter trains to cause mass casualties.

Installing airport-style security checks at train stations could prevent attackers armed with IEDs from entering. But this presents obvious difficulties: metro rail systems are designed to be used by millions of passengers every day. People would resent long waits in security queues multiple times a day to complete their commute.

Mad rush, Manila. Image: FotoGrazio/Flickr/creative commons.

Owing to their function, metro rail projects are conceived as open architecture systems. This means that, in the design phase, emphasis is placed on facilitating the movement of passengers. Every care is taken to minimise the presence of bottlenecks (other than those created by shops and fare collection gates) that can inhibit movement, cause delays and create safety concerns, brought about by overcrowding. This open design makes it easier for terrorists to enter, plant explosive devices hidden in bags or backpacks and make their escape afterwards.

Metro rail systems are also vulnerable because of the inherent predictability in the way they operate. It is easy for terrorists to work out when trains are most crowded, in order to cause a large number of casualties. This may explain why the attacks on the London Underground in 2005 and 2017 both took place during the rush hour.


A stronger response

The response of security agencies to this threat has varied around the world. In London, the emphasis is on covert measures. Police rely on intelligence-led operations to disrupt plots at the planning stage, while a vast network of CCTV cameras is used for surveillance to identify suspicious behaviour.

At the other end of the spectrum, security personnel in Beijing, Delhi and Moscow scan every bag for explosives and pat down every passenger before they can start their commute. This approach comes at a cost, as waiting times in security queues can stretch up to 20 minutes during the rush hour.

Across the world, it’s becoming increasingly common for railway companies and police to rely on ordinary railway employees such as train drivers, station managers and platform managers to perform a security role by identifying suspicious objects and individuals and reporting them to authorities.

Training railway staff in a security role can lead to “target hardening”: in other words, it increases the effort required on part of terrorists to attack metro rail systems and raising their chances of getting caught. The challenge for rail companies has been that the security role creates an additional burden for staff, which could lead to errors in both the security checks and their conventional role.

Innovative technology and design solutions are also being tested, to better secure metro rail systems against terrorist attacks. For example, provisions are made at the design stage of stations to include potential checkpoints, where baggage scanners can be installed to check passengers when police receive specific warnings.

The ConversationThere are nearly 200 operational metro rail systems worldwide – and new ones are under construction at a rapid pace . They provide a fast, affordable and environmentally friendly means of transport to large sections of population and have become an essential feature of cities across the world. Now, security agencies, railway operators and engineering companies must come together to protect these systems – and the people who use them – from the threat of terrorism.

Kartikeya Tripathi, Teaching Fellow, Security and Crime Science, UCL and Hervé Borrion, Associate Professor in Security and Crime Science, UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

These maps show how hard it is to measure inequality in English council areas

Maps! Maps! Maps! Image: author provided.

As heads of state, billionaires and other influencers pondered the issue of inequality at the World Economic Forum in Davos, an unlikely hero emerged in the form of Dutch historian Rutger Bregman. His memorable take down of the super wealthy on tax avoidance clearly resonated, at a time when the deep social divisions associated with inequality are manifesting themselves forcefully across the world: from the gilet jaunes protests in France, to the ongoing fallout from Brexit.

In the UK, people often think about inequality in geographical terms: for example, places such as Kensington in London are considered “rich”, while Blackpool in Lancashire is considered “poor”. In reality there are rich and poor areas almost everywhere, but they are not distributed evenly across England.

Inner urban neighbourhoods are often associated with deprivation, as are the so-called “left-behind” towns so often associated with Brexit, but quite often rural poverty is overlooked. When we began investigating inequality in England, as part of a new project funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we quickly found that the truth is far more complex.

Kensington constituency. Image: Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu, University of Sheffield.

Take Kensington, for example: when we mapped out data from government statistics on deprivation, we found that it’s actually a very unequal area.

We want to cut through old stereotypes and divisions, by presenting data in a new way, which sheds light on the longstanding inequalities within and between places – no matter how big or small, or urban or rural they are.

By the time we complete our project in 2020, we hope to produce an atlas of inequality, which illustrates the scale and severity of inequality across England, right down to a local level – since that’s where its impacts are felt most keenly.

Divided cities?

Looking at the data for English cities, the problems with mapping inequality become clearer. The maps below show eight major English cities, plus Greater London. Areas shown in red are among the 10 per cent most deprived in the whole of England, whereas the blue areas are among the 10 per cent least deprived. The ratio of red to blue areas is shown in the bar along the bottom of each city map.

Divided cities? Areas among the 10 per cent most and least deprived in England. Image: Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu, University of Sheffield.

Some cities look very deprived, others are quite mixed. In Sheffield in particular you could almost draw a straight line between the red and blue areas. Where boundaries are drawn matters a lot. Take Manchester, for example: its official boundary doesn’t include places which are functionally part of the city, such as Salford, where a lot of people work.

The City of Manchester (black outline) and surrounding areas. Image: Alasdair Rae, University of Sheffield.

Looking at the map of Manchester above, you might think it’s quite deprived, but you only have to look beyond the boundaries, in the map to the left, to see things in a different light. By contrast, Leeds has a wide boundary which extends far beyond the core of the city, and takes in wealthier places like Wetherby.

The blue areas all sit outside the functional core of the city, yet from an administrative point of view, they’re still part of Leeds. So although you might assume that Manchester is considerably more deprived than Leeds, the reality is more complex.

Is inequality inevitable?

Our initial findings have raised some critical issues, which prompted us to think more deeply about what level of inequality might ultimately be considered “acceptable” in the first place – and especially, whether areas with greater levels of inequality have worse outcomes.

This might seem like a strange thing to consider, but it’s important because it speaks to the issue of what kind of society we want to live in – and, as a result, what policies can be put in place to bring that about.

What would an ‘acceptable’ deprivation profile look like? Image: author provided.

The graph above looks at a very simple measure of inequality across three of England’s 149 official labour market areas (also known as “travel to work areas” or TTWAs). It shows what proportion of neighbourhoods are within each deprivation decile (i.e. poorest 10 per cent, 20 per cent and so on) for Lincoln, Liskeard and Liverpool. For example, you can see that a large proportion of Liverpool’s neighbourhoods are within the 10 per cent most deprived areas across England (the tallest bar on the Liverpool chart), yet this is not the case in Lincoln or Liskeard.

Lincoln has a more balanced profile, and Liskeard has far more areas in the middle. The key question here is how these variations in local inequalities impact both the life chances of individuals and overall levels of economic vitality.


At a time when society is defined more by its cleavages than its cohesiveness, it’s more important than ever to have a clear-eyed understanding of where inequality exists, and what impact it has on local people.

Of course, data and maps aren’t the only way of gaining insights into inequality – nor are they always as compelling as other media, like striking photographs, or people’s personal stories. Our approach is only one way of understanding the world. But it can help to inform leaders in local and national governments about inequality, and, we hope, lead to action which makes life better for people living in relative poverty.

The Conversation

Alasdair Rae, Professor in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield and Elvis Nyanzu, PhD Candidate in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.