Efforts to install high-tech surveillance equipment in New York City's subways are taking too long and costing too much, the state comptroller reported Tuesday, and experts say the system remains a vulnerable terrorist target eight years after the 9/11 attacks.
"The [Metropolitan Transit Authority] is struggling to bring the security of its system into the 21st Century," said comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. "The transit system is safer than before September 11, 2001... but some security improvements are years behind schedule and the electronic security program may never be completed."
The MTA's electronic security program calls for installation of video cameras, motion detectors and other technologies throughout New York's subways. The MTA budgeted $265 million to complete the project in 2008, but the work remains unfinished and the cost has jumped to more than $460 million, DiNapoli said. With $59 million remaining for the project, MTA has told DiNapoli's office there is not enough money left to get the job done.
MTA has also run into a slew of problems with the company it contracted to complete the electronic security program, as reported by ABC News in September 2009. Transit officials awarded Lockheed Martin a more than $200 million contract to develop and install a surveillance system in the subways. The company's agreement called for installation of video cameras and electronic sensors, including motion detectors, access control devices, and video viewable from select command centers.
Installation of the equipment was supposed to be completed in August 2008. The report found that while two MTA operating agencies are utilizing electronic monitoring devices, three others have yet to be serviced. But Lockheed became unhappy with problems it encountered on the job and in April 2009 filed suit to terminate its contract with the MTA.
Lockheed said several rooms where work was to be done were filled with water. Others had no electricity. None of the rooms had computer network access, Lockheed claims. The company is seeking $138 million and has stopped all work on the project. In turn, the MTA filed a countersuit seeking $92 million and alleges Lockheed's system didn't work.
"The MTA has asserted Lockheed's failure to perform and its breach of contract," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. "However, we are not waiting for the outcome of ongoing litigation to secure our transit network and will finish the project with available funds."
NYC's Subways Lack Surveillance Systems Other Major Cities Already Have
However, the Comptroller's report indicates the MTA has already acknowledged that "with the limited funds remaining (about $59 million) it will be unable to achieve a security system that meets all of the requirements mandated under the original contact with Lockheed."
Ortiz explained that MTA has modified the electronic security program and hired other contractors to complete it. "While different in scope, the program moving forward will have the same level of functionality as the original program."
Meanwhile, Washington, Atlanta and other major cities have installed similar surveillance systems. New York has had to add extra police officers to patrol its subways as it awaits its own version.
After the terrorist attacks, a classified report for MTA revealed that an explosion and a breach in the many subway tunnels that run under Manhattan's East River could shut down the tunnels for years, which former MTA security official Nick Casale said could result in the loss of thousands of lives.
"The water of the East River would start pouring in and it would not stop," Casale said. "And at some point we would have a catastrophic collapse."
"The report estimated 19,000 casualties," said Casale.