Mark Groce: I'm Mark Groce, and you're listening to TransitTrax, New York City Transit's podcast service.
Riding the system - whether on a subway train or a bus, you've undoubtedly heard this message.
Audio from R142 car: Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an important message from the New York City Police Department. Keep your belongings in sight at all times. Protect yourself. If you see a suspicious package or activity on the platform or train, do not keep it to yourself. Tell a Police Officer or an MTA employee. Remain alert and have a safe day.
Mark Groce: It's part of MTA New York City Transit's See Something, Say Something campaign. But what exactly should you say something about? We asked NYPD Deputy Chief Vinnie DeMarino for some advice
Deputy Chief Vinnie DeMarino, NYPD Transit Bureau: We know from studying prior terrorist incidents, particularly transportation-related terrorist incidents, that pre-operational surveillance and reconnaissance usually occurs in the weeks, days, or months leading up to an attack. What we're trying to do in New York is to stop it at that phase, that pre-operational phase.
NYC subway and bus riders are a very savvy, very street-smart group of people. They ride the train 10 times a week, they know when something is not normal. Unattended objects, I think, an unattended item, an unattended package. And again, if with that person, something that's out of the ordinary, something that doesn't appear to be what we would call quite normal.
Mark Groce: Packages may be easy enough to spot, but how do you go about spotting someone suspicious, especially on the subway where odd behavior isn't exactly something new?
Deputy Chief Vinnie DeMarino: If you see someone on the train recording, or has a monitoring device, or a counter or they have a diagram or blueprints, this is not ordinary behavior. If they're standing there with a pen and paper and they're drawing a diagram, or they're very concerned about a map. Most people take the first train or the first bus, they're letting a few go by. Maybe they have a laptop and are making entries into their computer. Photography or video taping that is not typical tourist. Those are all behaviors that may warrant the customer to bring it to the police's attention.
Mark Groce: Deputy Chief DeMarino is in charge of counter-terrorism efforts for the Transit Bureau of the NYPD. He says if you do see something or someone - whether on a subway train or platform - the steps you should take are basically the same.
Deputy Chief Vinnie DeMarino: We don't want them to take independent action, we don't want people to go out there and become heroes. They will be a hero if they just bring it to our attention. There are a number of things that we are teaching the public to do. They can get ahold of the train or the bus crew. If they see a police officer, obviously bring it to that person's attention.
Mark Groce: The NYPD is continually stepping up its counter-terrorism efforts in the subways, from deploying teams to randomly check riders' bags, to testing hi-tech sensors to spot signs of explosive or biological weapons.
Deputy Chief Vinnie DeMarino: We have a multi-pronged counter-terrorism strategy. That's just one of the many, many things that we are doing. And like the Police Commissioner often says, there are a lot of things out there that are very visible to the public, and there are many things out there that might not be so visible to the public. Dogs are certainly part of the package. I think that you will see more dogs, you have seen more dogs, and you've certainly seen plenty of police.
Mark Groce: But even the NYPD can't be everywhere at all times, which is why it's so important for riders to play their part as the “eyes and ears” of the system, and report suspicious behavior or packages to transit employees or the Police. Once contacted, the NYPD will swing into action, coordinating their response with Transit Supervisors in the field and dispatchers at the Subway Control Center, in case an investigation of the package is warranted and train service in the area has to be altered. Something John Johnson, who runs the Department of Subways Rail Control Center, knows all too well.
John Johnson, RTO Control Center: When we have to shut the system down at a particular station, now we have to start to reroute service on to alternate lines, which does impact thousands of people, particularly during the time of day. During the rush hour, most importantly, it impacts much more people, close to millions.
Mark Groce: While Police investigations of suspicious activity can be time-consuming, and do cause delays to service, both officials at New York City Transit and the NYPD urge riders NOT to become complacent, but to remain vigilant.
Deputy Chief Vinnie DeMarino: The name of the game here is that fighting terrorism just like fighting crime in New York City, countering or preventing a terrorist attack is everyone's job, it's everyone's business, and we all have to be partners in this effort. So we encourage everyone to get involved to let us know if something is out of the ordinary.
John Johnson: We want the customers to notify us, that's our eyes and ears of the system. Once we get notified in a timely manner, we can make alternate plans to run the service on other lines and give the customers sufficient notification so that they can make their plans to go to their points prior to getting on to the system.
Mark Groce: If you see something suspicious you can call the New York City Transit Terrorism Hotline at 1-888-NYC-SAFE or 311. All calls will be kept confidential. In an emergency, call 911.
For more information, you can go online to www.mta.info and click on See Something, Say Something.
For TransitTrax, I'm Mark Groce.