Travelers May Not Feel Alerts

Walking Thursday through Terminal B at Kansas City International Airport, Larry Tagg and Mex did a routine sweep for bombs. Though the alert level was raised to orange for transit systems after a London bombing, air travelers didnt see a noticeable increase in air security.

Across the Kansas City area, buses, trains and other transit took extra precautions Thursday as a result of the London bombings although they might not have been obvious to travelers.

The changes came as the United States put much of its mass transportation on high alert, moving to code orange amid concern about a possible copycat attack by terrorists.

Security experts worry such transit systems remain vulnerable to attack, but that didnt stop efforts Thursday in Kansas City and elsewhere.

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority alerted its drivers to watch for suspicious activity and any unusual or unattended packages on their buses and at bus stop shelters.

Spokeswoman Cynthia Baker said drivers also were asked to check their buses for left-behind items when they reach the end of the line. She said a large portion of the ATAs buses are equipped with security cameras.

ATA dispatchers issued the alert to drivers on duty at 9 a.m. via their headsets so as not to alarm passengers.

Amtrak also raised its security threat level but reported all routes through Kansas City were running on schedule Thursday.

Greyhound Bus spokeswoman Anna Folmnsbee said the company was not included in the terrorism-alert upgrade. However, the company, which offers city-to-city transportation, is operating at a heightened level of security, she said.

Folmnsbee would not disclose details. She said the companys regular checks for unattended luggage and random passenger screenings were ongoing.

Air transportation was not included in the alert, either, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary at Kansas City International Airport no National Guard troops patrolling the terminals, no guards checking the trunks of vehicles, no major flight delays.

Airport officials do not comment on specific security measures, and any security steps that might have been taken Thursday were not obvious to the public.

But as a reminder that bomb-sniffing police dogs are walked around the terminals daily, airport officials let media cameras follow a dog and his trainer around Terminal B.

Some airlines, including United, are allowing London-bound travelers to re-book their flights or change their itineraries without charge. United Airlines has such a policy in place through July 11, spokesman Jeff Green said.

Bob and Marcie Thedinger of St. Joseph were not intimidated by the bombings. The two were set to leave this evening for London.

We have absolutely no concerns at all, Marcie Thedinger said. This is a city that was able to handle with courage and conviction the devastation and bombings of World War II. Im sure theyre not daunted.

Nonetheless, international travel bookings are expected to soften slightly as Thursdays explosions stoke tourists terrorism fears. A slump in trans-Atlantic tourism would hurt what has been a bright spot for the beleaguered airline industry, though analysts said the impact should be minor and short-lived.

Elsewhere in the United States, cities from New York to San Francisco tightened security for local rail and bus lines that carry tens of millions of Americans daily.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday that authorities had no evidence of a specific, credible threat against the United States.

However, he said, we feel that, at least in the short term, we should raise the level here because, obviously, were concerned about the possibility of a copycat attack.

About 29 million people in the United States take commuter trains or subways on an average workday, and millions more take buses. The New York City area accounts for about a third of the rail total, followed by Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia. The West Coasts largest transit system is in San Francisco.

Security for subways and commuter trains varies by city, but one thing all mass-transit systems share is this: Theyre vulnerable to attack and no technology on the horizon promises to change that.

The Homeland Security Department has looked at high-tech ways to improve transit security but hasnt instituted anything since testing a system last year. Security officers and bomb-sniffing dogs remain the primary ways to combat terrorists.

Rafi Ron, former head of security at Israels Ben Gurion International Airport and now a security consultant in Washington, D.C., said there were no technological quick fixes for mass-transit systems.

Very little technology can be applied in this area in an effective way, Ron said.

The reason is fairly simple: Mass-transit systems exist to move large numbers of people quickly over a large metropolitan area. Anything that slows down the process, such as security checks, would severely disrupt the systems.

Following the March 11, 2004, train bombing in Madrid that killed 191 people, the Transportation Security Administration tested a high-tech security system at a suburban Maryland commuter train stop. Walk-through portals sniffed the air around passengers to check for explosives residue.

The agency said the tests went well but none of the machines were installed at train stops. They are being used at some airports.

Screening for explosives at airports and airlines makes abundant sense, said Jack Riley, a homeland security expert at the Rand Corp. think tank. Screening for explosives on trains is going to be expensive and time-consuming.

Security was stepped up on mass-transit systems in Kansas City and elsewhere Thursday in response to the bombings in London.

But those systems remain vulnerable by their very nature, security experts say.