Kellogg School Professor Robert Gallamore
doesn't like to talk about it. He doesn't even like to think
But envisioning the next major terrorist attack
on America's infrastructure is on his agenda.
Will it be a dirty bomb, packed into a container
headed into the nation's heartland? A biological weapon routed
through a metropolitan transit system?
The mind recoils at the possibilities. Yet
it has become Gallamore's responsibility not only to imagine
a montage of potential disasters but to recommend how to prevent
Gallamore, director of Northwestern's
Transportation Center and a professor of managerial economics and decision
sciences, is lending his expertise to the federal government
as it seeks to avert future terrorist attacks. As a member
of the transportation panel of the U.S. Committee on Science
and Technology for Countering Terrorism, he and 15 other transportation
experts are helping to set the federal research agenda and
advise officials on the best use of their resources.
"It is a war out there, but it's a different
kind of war than we've ever had before, " says Gallamore,
whose committee includes top thinkers from academia, business
"Terrorists know how to find the vulnerability.
We're kind of the counter-brainstormers. We don't know where
they think is the best place to hit us next, but we have to
do our best to anticipate it.
"The fear is that, as on 9/11, some breech
of security could be used to convert our transportation network
into a terrorist weapon."
Much effort already has gone into making the
airways — the vectors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks — safer. The U.S. government has deployed air
marshals on airliners, installed improved weapon detection
systems at commercial airports and placed airport security
screeners under the purview of federal authorities.
Those steps could be taken swiftly because
aviation is a relatively closed system, with distinct points
of entry and exit for passengers, freight and would-be terrorists.
The picture is quite different for the rest of the U.S. transportation
infrastructure — the highways, railroads, pipelines
and waterways that are the lifeblood of American commerce.
The U.S. highway system consists of 4 million
interconnected miles of roads. Freight rail networks extend
for more than 300,000 miles, while commuter and urban rail
systems cover some 10,000 miles.
Unlike the aviation industry, which reports
mainly to the Federal Aviation Administration, surface transport
is overseen by a loose web of local, state, public, private
and federal authorities.
It is a web all too easily evaded. As Gallamore
notes, "Anyone can go onto a highway and drive. There
aren't gates and guards and guns to stop them, as there are
And there likely never will be, notes Professor
Joseph Schofer of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering.
The nature of the U.S. transportation system is to be open,
"and in that respect we're at serious risk," he
says. A terrorist seeking to create mayhem would find many
places to do so, from commuter stations to major ports.
Moreover, many supply chains are now tightly
organized around a central location, making such hubs attractive
targets to potential terrorists, says Kellogg Professor
Sunil Chopra, the IBM Distinguished Professor of Operations Management
and Information Systems. "All you have to do is disrupt
one port to disrupt entire supply-chain flows," Chopra
The same holds true for public transportation,
notes Schofer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering
and a Transportation Center faculty member. "You always
know where to find the gathering places, and you always know
when there are going to be a lot of people there," Schofer
"Is there a way you can prevent a terrorist
from taking advantage of that? Probably not," he says.
"But there are ways to mitigate the effects of an attack,
and that's what many people are working on."
Schofer is encouraged by the ability of U.S.
planners to learn from past events. He notes that the World
Trade Center disaster could have claimed many more lives in
2001 had officials not absorbed lessons from a far less deadly
1993 bomb blast underneath the twin towers.
Almost immediately after the two hijacked
planes hit the center, New York transit authorities sent empty
subway trains to the vicinity of Ground Zero to evacuate thousands
fleeing the buildings. That alone almost certainly spared
many from death or injury, Schofer notes.
"They didn't do that in 1993," he
says. "They became a lot smarter about responding, even
though the procedural changes didn't protect against an attack."
Likewise, transportation officials across
the country are becoming serious about installing safeguards
like video surveillance units in mass transit systems, Schofer
says. Local transit services are establishing agreements with
communities to provide vehicles for evacuation purposes if
Natural disasters can provide additional information
to planners on how to handle the disruptions caused by a terrorist
attack, he adds. Officials in hurricane-prone areas, for example,
will reverse traffic flows away from vulnerable areas when
a storm is brewing.
The key to maximizing the strengths —
and overcoming the weaknesses — of the U.S. transportation
system may well lie in a "layered" approach to security,
as advocated by Gallamore and his committee colleagues.
A layered system includes multiple security
features, each of which provides backup for the others. Such
a system could help to counter the threat that someone might
try to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction in one of the
millions of intermodal cargo shipping containers that enter
the country each year.
These sealed containers are easily transferred
from ships to trains to trucks, and carry more than 80 percent
of the cargo ferried by ocean liners in international trade.
"It's well known, unfortunately, that we don't inspect
all those containers when they're imported," Gallamore
says. In fact, only about 2 percent are opened and searched
by U.S. Customs officials, though the government is working
to increase that number.
To boost security, Gallamore and his colleagues
argue that safety measures be incorporated into each container's
journey from beginning to end.
For example, the government could require
containers be loaded in facilities secured from unauthorized
entry and monitored by surveillance cameras. Container identification
scans taken at the original loading facility could be compared
with scans made at multiple points on the shipment's journey
to ensure that there is no unexplained deviation from its
In the future, after costs of deployment decrease
and the investment is shown to be warranted, each container
could be secured with a "smart seal" that would
report electronically if the container is breeched. Shippers
could also place light or temperature sensors within the containers
to notify inspectors if a container is opened without authorization.
The drivers of vehicles delivering these containers
could be subject to biometric identification and monitoring
to determine unusual work patterns.
"Keeping an eye on a big outdoor network
is hard to do, and we need to get better at it," Gallamore
says. "We must improve our ability to know what's in
the box, and to keep an eye on that box. If it falls out of
its parameters during the course of that movement, authorities
need to know about it."
Of course, such measures are likely to prove
time-consuming and expensive, and not just for the government.
"How much financial responsibility will commercial shippers
and carriers be prepared to take?" Gallamore asks. "That's
where it gets sticky, because most transportation businesses
have huge capital requirements and thin operating margins."
Like it or not, however, many in the shipping
industry are already shouldering additional costs associated
with the fallout of Sept. 11.
Beginning this summer, drivers of trucks carrying
hazardous materials must undergo a government background check,
a move likely to reduce the pool of potential workers. Meanwhile,
the government's stepped-up scrutiny of intermodal containers
has slowed the flow of shipments for many in the freight industry.
In addition, many shipping customers have
become leery about storing cargo at carrier facilities, notes
Andrew Boyle '00, executive vice president and CFO of Boyle
Transportation of Billerica, Mass.
"Shippers want more of their freight
to go directly to their destination, but they're generally
unwilling to pay a premium for this 'expedited' service,"
Boyle says. This has restricted the ability of Boyle's company
to consolidate shipments and route them in the lowest cost
Boyle says his firm has been somewhat insulated
from the upheaval in the industry because of the nature of
his business: the transport of hazardous materials and sensitive
electronics. "Given the fact that the federal government
is our biggest customer, we have been operating under extreme
scrutiny for 32 years," Boyle says.
For Boyle Transportation, that means comprehensive
background checks on each driver and GPS monitoring of all
shipments. Until recently, the company paid for hourly satellite
positioning updates on its trucks; in the wake of Sept. 11,
it has increased the update frequency to every 15 minutes.
Each satellite tracking unit in each truck
also contains a hardwired "panic button," enabling
drivers to receive emergency help from the firm's operations
center. Beginning this summer, each driver also will be issued
a wireless panic button.
"We actually support increased oversight
regarding safety and security, because it makes for a level
playing field among competitors," says Boyle.
Leveling that field is one of the top goals
of Gallamore and his colleagues, who have submitted their
report to sponsoring federal agencies. Gallamore has since
chaired a follow-up study to investigate cyber-terrorist threats
to the transportation infrastructure and recommend steps for
building a research program within the Department of Homeland
Security to address cyber-vulnerabilities and counter-measures.
The studies make clear that the nation's counter-terrorism
efforts hinge on research into all aspects of security. Gallamore
suggests that the key to pursuing this research agenda will
be a willingness to reward creative thinking.
"We must think about better ways to motivate
research on better means of detecting explosives," Gallamore
"If the ideas proposed by researchers
don't work, they don't work," he adds. "But if they
do work but happen to be expensive, then we can always work
on creating cost efficiencies."