I was recently talking to a railroad manager about railroad security and Open-Source Intelligence. What this individual said truly hit home: ‘Unfortunately the railroads are private corporations who survive by the bottom line, and during the past fifty years many have gone by the wayside because of the bottom line. It is tough to show you are a value to the company when you don’t bring any money to the table. Don’t get me wrong, the railroads love having security in high crime areas to combat the thieves but as for the vast areas where there is minimal thievery it’s more of a window dressing.’

I am a military intelligence professional and this echos what my community and our sister community, security, has continually dealt with. If you are doing a good job then leadership normally leaves you alone, but because there have been no security problems, it may scrutinize your budget for cost savings. However, should a security failure happen, it’s your fault and why didn’t you catch that. The intelligence community has always had to live with ‘intelligence failures and operational successes’.

How can rail security and the bottom-line live together and what are the easy low-cost solutions? Here are a few recommended strategies and suggestions: leadership buy-in, OPSEC programme, trained force multiplier, government intelligence understanding and community law enforcement support.  

Senior management integral

The first and most essential prerequisite is to ensure senior management is an integral part of the security team and understands that bad people are in fact looking at the rail infrastructure and because of the nature of railroading, that certain areas can be considered ‘soft targets’. When senior management understands and buys into the phrase, ‘good security costs and bad security costs more’ you have the foundation of a great rail security programme. Providing adequate funding and leadership support to security efforts does not bring money to the table, but it will prevent it from leaving if riders or shippers lose faith that the railroad can move goods or people safely and securely throughout the rail system and that ‘due diligence’ is a good thing.

Open-Source Intelligence

Develop a rail operations security or OPSEC mentality from the top down. What is OPSEC?  OPSEC is, in layman’s terms, an analysis of all rail-specific information that is available to a bad guy. An assessment determining whether these individual pieces can be put together to come up with a bigger picture, and then action can be taken to eliminate or reduce access to this information. I know that railroads are not a military operation, but some of the information available on the World Wide Web or through railroad employees can show where those ‘soft spots’ or ‘targets of opportunity’ exist.  This is sometimes termed ‘Open-Source Intelligence’. Open-Source Intelligence is just what it says, information that is just out in the open and unprotected. In the intelligence world you can take a small piece of what seems to be inconsequential information, combine it with another, then another, and pretty soon you have a complete picture of what may be considered critical or sensitive information. I also know that free speech and access to information is part of living in a free society, but sometimes you just have to ask yourself why someone would need to know specific railroad information, such as why is detailed information about a switch machine placed on the internet? We know that modern-day terrorist groups are very good at using electronic media. I paraphrase the Chinese general Sun Tsu; ‘know the enemy as you know yourself’. Make sure the entire rail team understands that the World War 2 slogan, ‘loose lips sink ships’ is still applicable in today’s counterterrorism/counter criminal world.

See something say something

Develop trained eyes and ears to provide situational awareness and provide a force multiplier.  Rails, especially commuter rails, have implemented these programmes to help security. ‘See Something Say Something’ campaigns have documented success with law enforcement. Several railroads in the US have implemented security programmes using citizens. Norfolk Southern’s, ‘Protect the Line’ and BNSF’s, ‘Citizen’s for Rail Security’ are examples. These efforts are a great start and ask citizens to report anything unusual. However, I feel that these programmes need to augment their ongoing efforts, such as provide training on what to look for rather than report ‘anything unusual’ and implement some type of background checks for volunteers.

These types of campaigns can sometimes provide law enforcement with extensive amounts of tips of which only some prove to be worthwhile yet each tip requires review by sometimes overtasked law enforcement. To improve the quality of tips, training on what exactly is reportable is critical. A successful programme like this was implemented in a US West Coast community under the direction of local law enforcement that provided 16 hours of rail-specific training along with background checks.

Meaningful relationship with intelligence agencies

Develop a meaningful relationship with your government intelligence agencies. These agencies are staffed by some of the best personnel in the world when it comes to providing meaningful security and intelligence information. Reach out a hand and introduce yourself, tell them your security challenges and keep that relationship going, don’t just visit once a year. Help them understand the railroad’s unique environment and physically bring intelligence representatives to the railroad and educate them on the railroad culture. Without this knowledge analysts will do the best they can; however the analyst that does not fully understand the railroad’s operations will be prone to making assessments that are susceptible to error; regrettably I have personally reviewed rail security reports that were completely off base due to assumptions and beliefs that were well-meaning but flawed 

Reach out to the community

Additionally, reach out to each community along the railroad and educate local law enforcement on the importance of keeping an eye on the tracks. Let’s be honest, local law enforcement is usually understaffed and overworked so railroads also need to help keep local law enforcement aware that a derailment caused by a train applying the emergency braking system due to a trespasser or an attack on the rails in their community could be catastrophic.

In closing, I was recently interviewed about railroads and Open-Source Intelligence and when some comments appeared that my interview was an ‘overreaction’ I had to remind myself that 15 years ago, if you said that you needed a single point of entry for schools because a gunman may attack students you would be laughed at, or as one terrorism expert told me, most people, if asked on September 10th 2001 wouldn’t believe airplanes could be used as weapons. The reality is that the world has changed and we as railroaders need to adapt. The bad guys are out there and terrorist groups have a military or paramilitary mindset, which means they understand the value of intelligence when determining what target they are going to hit to meet their objective. So, why make it easy. ‘Better be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident security’ – Edmund Burke 1729-1799

Richard Gent is president/CEO Hot Rail, LLC