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Homeland Security of the US Transportation System


The transportation system plays a critical role in the growth and development of the country. It is through this system that people and goods are able to move from one destination to the other for various reasons. The transportation system is the means through which international trade, business, and tourism take place. Szyliowicz (2004) declares that transportation is a critical part of national economies and the global economy.

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While the importance of the transportation system was recognized in the years before 2011, it was never anticipated that terrorists would compromise the system to inflict great damage to the nation. After the 9/11 attacks, the government was forced to recognize the threats posed by terrorism to the transportation system. The attacks by the Al-Qaida terrorist network demonstrated that the American transportation system was a potential target for future terrorist attacks.

From this point, it became evident that the security of the transportation assets would be necessary in order to achieve homeland security. This paper will set out to analyze how the transport system in the country has adjusted to meet the Homeland security demands that became apparent after the 9/11 attacks. The general vulnerabilities of the transportation system will be highlighted and the various strategies employed to increase transport security reviewed.

Terrorism and the US Transportation System

The PRE-9/11 Situation

Before 9/11, transport security was almost entirely confined to the aviation industry. Significant attention was given to aviation security and measures were taken to prevent specific kinds of attacks that could be aimed at aircrafts. The security needs of other transportation modes such as road, rail and sea were largely ignored since the dangers did not seem significant. While security vulnerabilities were identified in the transportation system, the government and the private sector did not take any measures to deal with the risks.

Van (2004) reveals that in spite of numerous warning about transportation security by Mary Shiavo, who was the inspector general of the US Department of Transportation in the years before 2001, no action was taken to bolster transportation security.

The events of 9/11 made it clear that the transportation system was not only vulnerable, but also an attractive target for terrorism attacks. Van (2004) declares that the events of 9/11 were genuinely catalytic in that they shocked the major players in the transportation sector into taking action to secure transportation facilities against terrorist attacks.

Why Target the Transport System?

Transportation facilities are seen as appealing targets by terrorists for a number of reasons. To begin with, it is hard for the government to dedicate security resources to effectively secure all the transportation facilities in the country owing to their expansive nature. In addition to this, some of these facilities have symbolic significance to the nation.

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Szyliowicz (2004) states that facilities such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Grand Central Station hold great symbolic significance and attacking such locations would assure that the terrorist network responsible for an attack was given great publicity by the media.

In addition to this, transportation facilities are targeted because they play an important functional role in the country. Van (2004) asserts that one of the goals of terrorism is to inflict financial damage on the target country. The destruction of transportation facilities results in dire economic effects. For example, the destruction of train tracks would lead to delays in the transportation of goods leading to economic losses.

Blowing up a bridge would prevent people from moving to their destination as well as disabling the movement of goods wrecking widespread economic effects. Szyliowicz (2004) observes that land transportation such as rail cannot recover quickly after an attack and it would take weeks for a railroad to return to normalcy after an attack. Terrorists therefore attack the transportation system because of the potential economic consequences that such attacks cause.

Finally, transportation facilities are attractive targets to terrorists since they often have a high concentration of people. Szyliowicz (2004) note that transportation facilities such as bridges, tunnels, and terminals are often crowded and busy. Since the aim of terrorists is to inflict mass casualties from a single attack, these places present attractive targets. Theophilos and Mark (2007) declare that the DHS should constantly review the entire transportation system to access risks and take action to mitigate them.

Security Issues with transportation and logistics management

The events of 9/11 shocked players in the transportation sector into action to enhance security. The Federal government championed the security-oriented actions and various departments were created under the DHS to drive transportation security efforts. Attention was first given to the airways since this is the mode that had been utilized to carry out the terrorist attacks.

The 9/11 attacks revealed that there was inadequate airport controls and inadequate detection of dangerous objects by screeners who were poorly trained. Van (2004) notes that before 9/11, airline security was a myth as the private sector contracts employed to handle the security responsibilities used unqualified workers who had low levels of training and language skills.

The government undertook to expand its role in aviation security through the Transportation Security Administration, which was the agency created to enhance aviation security. Efforts were made to increase the efficiency with which the screening of passengers at airports took place.

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The maritime domain is an important mode of transportation and it serves as a major conduit for many businesses. This mode of transportation therefore needed to be considered when enhancing homeland security. Of great importance was the millions of containers that arrive in the US by ship each year. While containerization improves efficiency in the delivery of cargoes, it presents some important security issues.

The intelligence community, including the CIA and the FBI have identified that shipping containers can be used to transport weapons, contraband, and even terrorists into the country. Considering the sheer scale of containers that move through the United States seaports each year, the containers present a significant challenge and complicate the efforts of achieving homeland security.

In post 9/11 America, road networks were identified as a transportation sector that needed enhanced security. In the aftermath of the terror attacks, many security experts disclosed that the road network could be used for continued low-level attacks by terrorists (Lake, 2005).

Actions needed to be taken to enhance road security against terrorist attacks. From the onset, it was recognized that securing the entire road system in the US would be a daunting task considering that it is made up of over 4 million miles of interconnected paved roads and 600,000 bridges (Plant, 2006). In addition to this, the task of monitoring and safeguarding security is complicated by the presence of multiple passenger terminals and loading docks spread out over millions of miles throughout the country.

Rail security before 9/11 was mainly related to concerns about protection from vandalism and injuries to unauthorized persons on rail facilities. Plant (2006) explains, “Safety, not security from outside threats, has been the guiding policy goal of federal programs directed at railroad operations” (p. 298).

It was taken for granted that the railroad was secure and before 9/11, the railroad industry considered itself the safest and most secure mode of transportation in the US. However, after the events of 9/11, the key players in the industry were forced to reconsider this stance. The rail industry recognized that terrorists could target its facilities.

Impacts of Heightened Security on Transport and Logistics Management

The September 11 terror attacks were seen as an attack upon the transportation system. The government and private sector recognized that they would have to respond by taking actions to enhance transportation security to prevent any such future attacks from succeeding.

Lake (2005) asserts that transportation security involves “securing the flow of people and goods along the nation’s highways, railways, airways, and waterway” (p. 3). The transportation sector has had to implement various security programs to mitigate the likelihood of attacks. Most of the new regulations required to improve security were dictated by the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

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The security initiatives imposed to safeguard homeland security in the US negatively affected the economy. Sternberg, Nyquist and Nilsson (2012) reports that the US experienced an average cost increase of 2.24% of export revenue due to the security spending incurred in post 9/11 to comply with the homeland security regulations.

Players in the transportation industry had to invest in security infrastructure such a security cameras and metal detectors. In addition to this, more security personnel needed to be hired to police passenger facilities. Russell and Saldanha (2009) declare that the new security measures imposed on the transport sector to reduce terrorist threats led to additional costs of up to $65 billion annually.

The security regulations imposed by the US government decreased the efficiency of logistics and transport operators. These regulations, meant to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks, include increased administration and new procedures. Sternberg et al. (2012) declare that procedures such as security inspections at points of embarkation not only increase the cost of transporting goods, but they also result in decreased service reliability for logistics service providers and carriers.

The security initiatives essentially take time from transport workers therefore threatening punctuality and reliability of transport services. Sternberg, et al. (2012) confirm that homeland security leads to the reduction of the relative amount of physical transport time available to drivers.

This is in spite of the fact that the level of efficiency influences a transport operator’s profitability. The efficiency also gives a competitive advantage over other players in the industry. The inefficiencies introduced by security procedures therefore cause great problems for the success of transport operators.

Response by Logistics and Transportation Management

Evidently, the heightened security measures employed after 9/11 had an impact on the transportation system. To operate efficiently in this environment of heightened security, players in the transportation sector needed to come up with ways to adjust to the new environment. The first major adjustment made by the logistics and transport operators was forming partnerships with governmental organizations that affect the movement of freight (Craig, 2012).

Traditionally, transportation and logistics businesses operated in a climate characterized by strategic alliances with business partnerships. However, these partnerships did not often extend to the government, as there were often conflicts in goals between private players and government agencies.

The homeland security situation forced transportation and logistics managers to reconsider this stance. Russell and Saldanha (2009) state that in the post 9/11 era, partnering with the government became a necessity especially for conducting international business efficiently.

To enhance homeland security Congress passed the Homeland Security Act 2002, which reorganized the functions of transportation and border security by incorporating a number of transport related departments into the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security. This new department, which brought all the major border security and transportation operations under one command, was tasked with securing the transportation systems in the country as well as the national borders.

Considering the significant role that the government agencies would be playing in the post 9/11 America, Logistics and transport managers needed to consider partnering with governmental departments. This will ensure that businesses are able to meet the set security requirements and pass compliance tests. Plant (2006) notes that transportation operators have taken steps to enhance their communications with government security agencies.

The movement of goods often involves many parties who play various roles at different stages. This is especially evident in international trade where logistics and transportation have an intermodal dimension. The intermodal transportation system presents some important security issues since vulnerabilities that exist at one stage might compromise the security of the entire network. Van (2004) declares that it would be impossible for the government authorities to inspect all commodities that move through the intermodal network.

Businesses therefore have to take responsibility for securing their products as they go through the network. To achieve this, logistics and transportation management has to gain an intimate knowledge of and confidence in their trading partners. All the parties involved in the transportation activities should take care to ensure the security of their stage since the weakness of a single link might compromise the entire network.

The emphasis on homeland security has meant that security issues are given priority in transportation and logistics management. This means that key players in the industry need to be ready to react to any circumstances that may arise due to security considerations. Specifically, the companies need to be able to adjust themselves to accommodate delays or interruptions that can occur due to security issues. Reliability is a key consideration in logistics and transportation management.

In the environment of heightened security caused by homeland security considerations, organizations need to maintain contingency plans to ensure system reliability. Theophilos and Mark (2007) illustrate that a security alert might lead to delays as thorough checks are made on transportation facilities leading to delays. This will result in considerably longer transit time that might negatively affect a business.

It is therefore important to come up with backup plans in the form of mode shifting. Mode shifting involves having an alternative means of transportation that can be utilized in the event that the preferred means is disrupted. For example, a company that uses the railroad to transport cargo can make plans to mobilize trucks to haul cargo in the event that the railroad is disrupted.

In addition to having contingency plans, the logistics and transportation management in an environment of heightened threats can benefit from having reserves and pre-positioning assets for the management of business logistics in times of emergency. Russell and Saldanha (2009) suggest that logistics and transportation businesses should take a cue from the military and adopt the concepts of agility and pre-positioning.

This means being able to respond to unexpected events within the shortest time possible. The businesses should build the capacity to enable them to analyze a new situation and adjust their strategic and tactical business plans to suit the new situation within the shortest time possible.


Enhancing homeland security became a primary objective of the US government following the 9/11 attacks. To underscore the importance placed on homeland security, the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002 and mandated to take all actions necessary to protect the US homeland. Increasing transportation security was one of the strategies for achieving these security goals.

The paper has shown that while transportation providers in the US were reluctant to invest in security in the pre-9/11 era, this changed as 9/11 forced the transportation industry to recognize the security risks inherent in the sector. The paper has identified some of the reasons why the transportation system is an appealing target for terrorists.

It then highlighted the unique security issues in the various transportation modes. The paper notes that security measures have had a negative impact on transportation by increasing costs while decreasing the efficiency of transportation. Logistics and transportation managers have responded to the new security environment by increasing collaboration with the federal, taking greater responsibility for securing their products, and having contingency plans.


Craig, M. (2012). Desperate Mobilities: Logistics, Security and the Extra-Logistical Knowledge of Appropriation. Geopolitics, 17(2), 355-376.

Lake, J.E. (2005). Border and Transportation Security: Overview of Congressional Issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

Plant, J. (2006). Terrorism and the Railroads: Redefining Security in the Wake of 9/11. Review of Policy Research, 23(3), 293-305.

Russell, D.M., & Saldanha, J.P. (2009). Five tenets of security-aware logistics and supply chain operation. Transportation Journal, 42(4), 44-54.

Sternberg, H., Nyquist, C., & Nilsson, F. (2012). Enhancing Security through Efficiency Focus—Insights From a Multiple Stakeholder Pilot Implementation. Journal of Business Logistics, 33(1): 64–73

Szyliowicz, J.S. (2004). International Transportation Security. Review of Policy Research, 21(3), 351-371.

Theophilos, G., & Mark, J. (2007). A systems approach to transportation security. Journal of Transportation Law, Logistics & Policy, 74(2), 156-180.

Van, R.J. (2004). Terrorism and Transportation Policy and Administration: Balancing the Model and Equations for Optimal Security. Review of Policy Research, 21(3), 263-274.

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