MTA police swarm station for subway security drill

Officers search Upton Metro stop in surprise anti-terrorism exercise


News from around the Baltimore region

July 20, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

More than a dozen Maryland Transit Administration police cruisers sped down Laurens Street with their sirens blaring and lights flashing and careened to a stop at the Upton Metro station.

Traffic backed up on Pennsylvania Avenue as startled motorists, commuters and residents watched officers descend on the station with mirrors, gloves and metal detectors. They searched garbage cans, parked cars and trains.

"My first reaction was that there was a bomb threat, because you see all the police coming with the subway being here," said William Winder, 41, of Baltimore.

The operation was a surprise homeland security drill. Neither station officials nor the public were told of the exercise, designed to test police response in case of a criminal or terrorist attack. Coming shortly after the London bombings, the drill unnerved unsuspecting passengers.

One woman ran across Laurens Street as she heard the commotion, and merchants stood in their doorways watching the scene unfold.

Officers scattered around the station and then went down an escalator to the platform below. Some checked vending machines, lighting fixtures, closets and cubby holes as others boarded a few Metro trains.

The officers searched under seats, checked packages and walked the catwalks between each train car looking for suspicious objects or people.

Commuters on the trains looked on as police swiftly searched each car. Some commuters asked a member of the media, who was following an officer, what was happening.

The two trains that were stopped were not delayed more than a minute, officials said.

MTA officials said at a news conference later that the drill was a success. "This is part of an effort to target-harden our system," said MTA Deputy Police Chief John E. Gavrilis.

Gavrilis said transportation officials have been talking with law enforcement officials from Madrid and New York to learn their counterterrorism methods.

Yesterday's drill came as officials running the Washington Metro system consider random baggage searches in an effort to thwart potential terrorist attacks.

Gavrilis urged riders to help. "We ask riders to be aware of anything outside the ordinary," he said.

Winder said he thought the drill was necessary.

"They have to do everything in their powers to keep the public feeling safe," he said. "I think they are doing a great job in protecting the system of Maryland. The same thing that happened in London can happen here at any time."

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