Toffler Associates, the management-consulting firm founded by futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, released the results of its study on the potential threat of terrorist attacks against freight trains carrying chemical cargoes known as Toxic Inhalation Hazards. The study, Creating A Secure Future: Understanding and Addressing the Threat to TIH Rail Cargoes, concludes that the threat of a terrorist attack on a TIH rail shipment, while real, is much more modest than many assert.
According to the study, "Since Sept. 11, 2001, many have suggested that potential terrorist attacks on freight trains transporting TIH pose a grave threat to the American public, and suggested that the rail industry, Federal government, local communities, and others should take a range of actions in response." In the view of the just-released study, "Well-meaning concern about the potential consequences of such an attack is obscuring some important facts about the threat and painting a picture of the threat that we believe does not conform to reality."
A spokesman for Toffler Associates says, "Absolutely, the threat of an attack on a TIH rail car is real — and government and industry have a responsibility to reduce that threat. But we face many threats in the war on terrorism, and the ways we are at risk is growing all the time. We can't afford to take ill-conceived actions, or over-focus on less likely threats — the risk of misallocating resources in our efforts to secure our homeland is just as real as the risk of terrorism itself."
One thing many fail to appreciate, according to the study, is that the complexity of the freight rail system, and some specific intrinsic attributes of freight rail operations, make successful attacks against TIH rail cargoes considerably less of a risk than some observers believe. At the same time, relatively few terrorist organizations possess the capabilities required to successfully mount such attacks.
"More action is needed to make the system more secure," the spokesman says, "but the system already is more secure than many believe." The study says the rail industry, government, and others must work together to "think and act strategically, commensurate with the multi-dimensional realities of the threat." Specifically, the Toffler analysts suggest two kinds of action: taking better advantage of the defenses already inherent in rail operations, and managing the effects an attack on TIH freight could have, should such an attack be successful.
The study was sponsored by rail industry interests and internal research funds. It employed secondary-source research as well as extensive interviews with homeland security and counter-terrorism officials and other subject matter experts. A draft report was subjected to a blind assessment by independent, third-party reviewers and revised to address factual gaps and other issues the reviewers noted.