You’re settling into your seat on the train. You look across the aisle and see a large bag on the floor. An “unattended” bag. You’ve heard “if you see something, say something,” but who do you call?
If you are on a New Jersey Transit train, you can send a text message to 65873 and report a suspected terrorist situation. “Text Against Terror” is promoted on signs on the trains, and urges people to act and report suspicious activity. Announced in June, it is the first of its kind text-based effort for a transit system in the U.S. Text Against Terror augments the existing NJ Transit anti-terror hotline (1-888-TIPS-NJT.)
Following the death of Osama Bin Laden in May, information recovered from his compound revealed plans to strike U.S. rail targets in September, close to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and PA.
Terrorists have attacked trains in Britain, Spain and India with devastating results. The US federal government is beefing up security to protect trains and is stepping up its anti-terror efforts across the nation’s passenger and freight rail systems.
The Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, CA, says that between January 2004 and May 22, 2011, there were 717 attacks worldwide on railway tracks, bridges and tunnels; passenger trains; passenger train stations; and freight trains or stations. Those attacks caused 1,073 deaths and 5,641 injuries.
The NJ Transit “Text Against Terror” initiative is funded by a grant for the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS,) which has recognized real and serious threats to the country’s rail systems. A variety of anti-terror strategies have already been implemented, including having police officers ride trains as guards against crime or terror attacks.
“This (police officers on trains) is an expensive solution, and it doesn’t take advantage of the large network of passengers with smartphones,” said Ed English, CEO of ELERTS Corp. “Text messages are a primitive notification tool. There is only so much info a (nervous) passenger can cram into 160 characters of text”. We like to say, “a picture tells a thousand texts.” Texting does not allow for uploading photos or GPS locations from people in the situation.”
ELERTS is a two-way mobile app (available for free on the iPhone, iPad, and Android phones) that empowers citizens to share real-time, eyewitness, emergency or disaster reports. It allows sending photographs and can automatically pinpoint incident locations. With the ELERTS app on their phones, train riders can quickly and discreetly report an “Unattended bag or package” or “Suspicious activity”.
According to a Neilson study, more that 55% of the mobile phones purchased in the U.S. are smartphones. This number is increasing monthly; Google alone claims over 500,000 new Android devices are being activated daily. People are carrying smartphones in great numbers, shouldn’t we be using their capabilities for public safety?
“Security can’t be looking everywhere all the time,” said English. “The general public can help. With ELERTS, observant train riders can help each other and improve public safety by reporting suspicious activity.”