THE MAGAZINE

Comcast’s 9-11 Lessons

By Teresa Anderson

But the biggest change was brought about by 9-11. The Patriot Act gave the Federal Reserve’s armed security officers law enforcement powers. The Philadelphia branch invested in new surveillance equipment, including remote video cameras throughout the neighborhood that feed back into the central station. The branch also installed an upgraded alarm system, vascular access control readers, and a mail screening system that includes a backscatter explosives detection system.

However, the biggest challenge was the facility itself. Constructed in 1976, the building extends to the sidewalk on a busy city street, making it vulnerable to a car bomb. The Fed compensated with extra patrols to protect the perimeter.

Vehicle traffic presented an even more difficult problem. Any vehicle visiting the site—such as armored trucks carrying cash, for example—entered the underground parking area. After 9-11, this posed too great a risk. So, immediately after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, security began to screen vehicles in the street. This quickly became untenable, however, as the screening blocked traffic and put officers at risk of being hit by cars. The solution was a separate vehicle screening area across the street from the main facility.

Completed in 2009, the screening building has a large staging area where vehicles undergo a high-tech screening process and are then escorted to the underground parking at the main facility. The process begins before the vehicle even arrives. Officers at the screening facility get advance notice 45 minutes before a vehicle arrives. The notification—including the license plate number, type of vehicle, and cargo—is sent to the smartphone of the officer on duty.

Once the vehicle pulls inside the inspection facility, a high performance door lowers behind it. The door moves quickly and is closed in a matter of seconds. The officer then enters the vehicle information into a computer and in a paper log as a backup. Within the computer, the officer uses software that searches federal watch lists to determine whether the vehicle has been linked to criminal or terrorist activity. (Cameras cover all the activity in the screening facility.)

The driver is directed to pull the vehicle over an undercarriage scanner. The scanner searches for evidence of any explosives or radiological material. The scan is linked to the vehicle’s license plate so that it can be compared to future scans should the same vehicle return. The scanner can then spot changes or anomalies.

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