Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials discussed a new committee designed to better inform various surface transportation operators on security risks to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) attendees during its Federal Forums Plus virtual conferences.
On Monday, Scott Gorton, the executive director of TSA who oversees the development of security policy and programs for surface transportation, commenced the online conference with information on the Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee (STSAC), which was developed about a year ago in accordance with the provisions of the TSA Modernization Act of 2018 passed by Congress to reauthorize the agency.
Gorton explained the purpose of the committee is to provide the TSA administrators with advice and guidance on a broad spectrum of issues, including security, initiatives, policies, and programs relating to surface transportation. Gorton said that the committee consists of voting and nonvoting members.
The nonvoting members serve in an advisory role and include representatives from federal agencies. Voting members consist of individuals representing each mode of surface transportation — passenger rail, freight rail, mass transit, pipelines, highways, over-the-road bus, school bus, and trucking.
Lt. Brian Reu with the Minnesota State Patrol is the school bus industry’s representative on the committee.
Gorton explained that the STSAC was divided into four sub-committees consisting of Security Risk and Intelligence, Cyber Security Information, Insider Threat, and Emergency Management and Reliance.
The goal of the Security Risks and Intelligence subcommittee is to improve the sharing of information and intelligence and to improve the information that is put together to provide operators. Whereas the Cyber Security Information subcommittee focuses on how surface enterprises can do a better job of sharing cyber information quickly.
Gorton added that the Insider Threat subcommittee will address how to reduce the risk of attacks as well as the need for increased employee vetting.
Related: Marijuana Use Dominates Positive Drug Testing Rates of Commercial Drivers
Related: Healthy Reaction to Stress Requires Mindfulness, Expert Tells NASDPTS Webinar
Related: NASDPTS Unveils November Virtual Conference Program
Related: NASDPTS Announces Different Plans for School Bus Illegal-Passing Survey Amid Closures
Related: EPA Opens 2020 DERA School Bus Rebate Application Process
The Emergency Management and Reliance subcommittee, however, was formed just as COVID-19 was taking its toll on the United States. The members turned their attention toward the pandemic, Gorton explained, and are working to catalog best practices, lessons learned, and procedures. He explained this committee is a process in progress.
Terrorist Attacks on School Buses
Rochelle Johnson, an intelligence analyst with 19 years of experience who is currently focused on threats to the Highway Motor Carrier sector within the TSA Intelligence Analysis Division, followed Gorton’s discussion to talk about terrorist attacks on school buses.
She explained that terrorist groups are continuing to engage in “simple attacks,” in which the vehicle itself is used as a ramming weapon. Such an attack took place last year on a school bus near Milan, Italy. The school bus driver hijacked the bus and rammed it into police cars before setting it on fire. Fortunately, none of the 51 school children on board were badly hurt.
She said the two common attack tactics used against school buses over the past two years consist of armed assaults and improvised explosive devices (IED).
While Johnson said the domestic threat level for school buses is projected to remain low through the end of the calendar year, she did discuss two attacks on school buses in 2020 that occurred internationally. In January, a school bus ran over an IED in Mali, West Africa, killing 14 on board. That same month, a school bus in India was targeted by an unknown assailant who hurled crude bombs at the bus, injuring two students.