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Wednesday, October 5th, 2022

NY-NJ Port Authority to deliver new counter-terrorism training for employees

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates one of the busiest networks of aviation, ground, rail and seaport facilities in the nation, is preparing to deliver a new counter-terrorism and personal safety-training program for its employees.

“We always tell people, if you see something, say something. But we would like to train them so they better understand what to see, what to say, and who to say it to,” Thomas Belfiore, chief security officer of the Port Authority, told Homeland Preparedness News in a recent interview. He added that better trained civilian employees serve to bolster the Port Authority’s security resources.

Another component of the training program will focus on active shooter situations and understanding the importance of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s protective curriculum of “run, hide, fight.”

“If they find themselves in an active shooter situation, they will know what measures to take to increase their chances of survival,” Belfiore said.

The grant-supported training program will also include a traditional emergency management element covering how to prepare for weather-related or natural disasters at work and at home.

Belfiore said that the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) is adding to its staffing this week with 102 new police recruits. The Police Academy curriculum has been updated to be more proactive and emphasize more tactical, interactive and situational training approaches than in the past, the agency said.

“We are considerably contributing to our police department and providing good strong staffing and training of our police department,” Belfiore said.

The PAPD has a force of about 1,800 officers, and is supported by about 1,000 unarmed contract security personnel. The role of the PAPD is to ensure the safety and security of all agency facilities, which include four airports, four bi-state bridges and two tunnels, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the PATH rail system, the regional ports in New York and New Jersey, and the 16-acre World Trade Center site.

Securing a vast network of facilities for 18 million people in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region is not without major challenges.

This week the metro region was in the spotlight during a field hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications subcommittee. Belfiore and other security officials testified about their preparedness and response capabilities for protecting surface transportation in the area.

The Port Authority Police Department uses intelligence-led policing to protect against threats to its facilities. It also participates in 28 federal, state and local task forces, including the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. In addition, formal risk assessments help guide the operational and capital investments that the authority makes to protect its facilities.

“We believe that we are well plugged in to learn of important and actionable intelligence and information,” Belfiore said.

The Port Authority has made major investments in technology, specifically with closed-circuit television, access control systems and a perimeter intrusion detection system, Belfiore added. The authority also created a new cyber security program to better monitor and respond to suspicious activities occurring on its network.

The Port Authority’s Office of Emergency Management also plays a critical role in the agency’s preparedness efforts.

“They prepare and deliver full-scale training and exercises for the agency, which also involves local first responders on both sides of the river,” Belfiore said. “We do drills on counter-terrorism, active shooters, improvised explosive devices, rail emergencies and airplane crashes.”

Belfiore also outlined to the subcommittee better ways that the federal government could help the Port Authority pay for capital security projects through the federal grant-funding program.

The Transit Security Grant Program provides a large source of funding for the Port Authority’s security projects. The federal funding for the program was set at $87 million nationwide in 2016 for all transit operators. Belfiore said that an increase in that funding would allow transit operators to pursue larger capital security projects that would better protect facilities.

Belfiore also said that extending the period of performance for that grant funding from three years to five years would allow the authority to plan larger scale capital security projects.

“Since 2002, $1.2 billion dollars has been spent in capital security projects and another $900 million in capital security projects have been identified for the coming years,” Belfiore said in written testimony.