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Ref: Orlando bus drivers to receive anti-terror training

Orlando Sentinal

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Lynx will spend Homeland Security grant




Agency has $908,000 to train its workers to avert possible terror attacks.

Jay Hamburg

Sentinel Staff Writer

June 20, 2007


Central Florida's bus system is spending nearly $1 million to train its drivers and other staff on how to spot terrorists and other bad guys.

A recent $908,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security will allow Lynx to give all 1,000 employees lessons in terrorism awareness and emergency response.

"This is good for us and for the community," said Linda Watson, corporate executive officer of the Lynx bus agency. "We need to be coordinating with law enforcement and fire departments to add to their eyes and ears."

The program is the latest of several measures the bus agency has initiated with the help of Homeland Security grants.

Already, the bus passenger sitting next to you might be an undercover security officer; the car following your bus might be an unmarked police car; and four cameras are recording everything on and around each bus.

The latest training money comes from a $14 million pool of Homeland Security funds earmarked for counterterrorism training in 10 cities, including Orlando, Miami, Dallas, Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore.

Lynx's money was secured with the help of U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla.

Watson says Lynx buses are secure but that it would be foolish to ignore the reality that terrorists have targeted buses and trains in other countries.

Israeli experts to help

Not all details have been worked out for the training to begin this summer, but Watson said Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary has offered to help bring in Israeli defense experts who have devised counterterrorism techniques for that country's public transit.

Local bus-agency employees have not foiled any known terrorist plots, but during the past two months, Lynx drivers have found themselves in harm's way. One driver stopped an assault on a female passenger waiting at a stop, and another dealt with the shooting of a passenger through the bus window.

Homeland Security grants allow the agency to train employees while directing its own money to other needs such as building more bus shelters or perhaps putting tracking devices on buses.

After focusing on larger cities with mass-transportation systems, Homeland Security leaders wanted to make sure the next tier of cities is better prepared. That is especially important in cities with many visitors and public events.

"We don't want to put all resources in one area," said Lee Kair, federal security director of the Transportation Security Administration in Orlando. "Because of its visibility, you want Orlando involved."

Kair said the new program is similar to terrorism-awareness training provided to long-haul truckers to recognize and report suspicious activities. Workers in several large airports also have undergone training.

'Always that possibility'

Asked whether the Orlando grant could result in a Lynx employee thwarting a terrorist plot, Kair said, "There's always that possibility."

But, he said, just the fact that potential criminals know the bus agency has enhanced its security can be a strong deterrent.

Though Lynx did not release details of how often undercover or uniformed officers ride or follow buses, a spokesman described the activities as "routine."

New training for Lynx employees likely will cover areas such as learning to recognize strange or unexpected behavior, recognizing suspicious packages and learning to work more closely with law enforcement and rescue workers.

Additional training may include how to remain aware and calm, if there is a potential problem.

The agency already offers first-aid training for employees. Its new Homeland Security training may include some instruction in self-defense.

But Lynx spokesman Matthew Friedman said no one is trying to turn bus drivers into law-enforcement officers, although one driver -- Pat Ward -- was lauded for stopping an assault on a waiting passenger last month.

"We don't expect them to wrestle anyone to the ground," Friedman said.

Jay Hamburg can be reached at jhamburg@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5673.

Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel

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