The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s top priorities are to keep the traveling public safe and secure, while also increasing those passengers’ mobility and contributing to the nation's economic growth. For this week’s 5 Minutes With…, Transport Security World spoke with a man who is concerned with those first aspects of that challenging balancing act – Michael Lowder. Michael is director of the Office of Intelligence, Security and Emergency Response at the DOT and spoke with Dave Songer about the huge challenges he encounters to keep his compatriots safe, how things changed in 2001 and what he’s got planned for Transport Security & Safety Expo in June.
Dave Songer (DS): We’ve all heard of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), but can you give me a description about what it does and its influence?
Michael W. Lowder (ML): The U.S. Department of Transportation’s mission is to: “Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.”
Put simply, if it moves DOT touches it in some form or fashion. Some of the main areas DOT is engaged in are developing regulations to keep our transportation systems safe; developing, funding and providing grants to improving our transportation infrastructure; and maintaining statistics on all aspects of our transportation networks. The Department has eight modal administrations: aviation, rail, transit, motor carriers, pipelines and hazardous materials, highway traffic safety, highways, and maritime. The DOT also manages the Saint Lawrence Seaway, in conjunction with their Canadian counterparts.
(DS): You’ve been with the DoT for 11 years now – what does your job there entail and what do you most enjoy about it?
(ML): First, the Office of Intelligence, Security & Emergency Response is multi-modal, it reaches across the whole of the DOT and works with all modes of transportation including industry, stakeholder and other governmental agencies and organisations. As I've explained to others, if there is a problem or issues that aren’t modal specific, it often comes to us to work or coordinate. This can range across the full spectrum of world events, operational responses, or anything that has an impact on the transportation sectors. This includes working intel issues, policy issues, protection issues, international issues, business continuity, emergency response, crisis management, training and preparedness exercises. One of the main aspects of what we do that I enjoy very much is how broad our portfolio is. It truly is something different every day.
(DS): What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced in your career?
(ML): The attacks on September 11th were a challenge. First, the fact that an attack had been carried out against the US, in the US was numbing. Secondly, it required that our response plans all had to be changed on the fly. All our national response teams and assets were configured to be deployed by air – but because all aircraft was grounded it meant that the movement of these teams to New York and Washington had to be reconfigured to ground transport.
The scope and complexity of the situation was significant. To watch the World Trade Center towers collapse, knowing that your friends and colleagues were inside working was gut wrenching! The uncertainty of what was next was very hard: what resources should we commit? What resources did you hold in reserve? It was a bad day, but it also demonstrated how the system worked, even under the most trying and difficult times.
(DS): As well as being on the executive board on the FBI’s National Joint Terrorism Task Force, you were deputy director of response for the Federal Management Agency shortly before 9/11. How did that role evolve as a result of that attack?
(ML): My career has spanned 47 years and has included service at local, state and federal levels and I've been able to operate from the street level, to the senior executive level. That broad range of experience has helped me tremendously. I've been able to see the interconnectivity of everything that we do. Everything that we do has an impact or a consequence on other things, or in most cases, a lot of other things. Having that understanding helps in better decision making, better policy development, more effective operations. The FBI's National Joint Terrorism Task Force is a tremendous asset to this country. It brings security personnel from all aspects of the community and places them in an environment that facilitates information sharing, cooperation and collaboration. I've seen the security focus shift from a ‘Cold War’ strategic nuclear threat, to nation state threats, narco-terrorist threats and terrorist organisations to individual self-radicalised terrorists. While none of the threats have gone away, the need to shift our primary focus has meant that we must be extremely vigilant, flexible and adaptable.
(ML): The biggest change that I've seen is the exponential increase in volume, accompanied by all the challenges that brings to the security world. More travellers, more shipments, more planes, trucks, trains, larger ships and more containers. The estimates indicate that the volume of passengers travelling on our networks will double in just a few years. How do we adjust the way we do things to accommodate that increase in volume? The treats have changed and have increased – transportation systems are now both a weapon and a target! The biggest threat used to be hijackings, a single ‘point threat’. That has now changed to a point where terrorists are trying to use transportation systems as a means to wage an attack against our society. It used to be primarily an individual attack but now we must focus and prevent a mass attack.
(DS): You’re due to speak at Transport Security & Safety Expo this June – what do you plan on speaking about at the event?
(ML): I plan to talk about how we must balance the need for security and efficiency in our transportation networks. We must provide more efficient transportation systems and services, but we must also insure that they are safe and secure. It must be an effective balance. That’s the challenge: safety, security and efficiency.
(DS): Which security product or service do you most admire?
(ML): I'm truly fascinated by the application of new technologies into the security fields. Advanced video analytics, machine learning, facial recognition and other such technologies are some of the things that I see as being the future game changers in the security field. These technologies will allow us to be more secure, more efficient and more effective. It will allow us to increase our throughput of people and things, but in a more secure environment.
(DS): I understand you’re moving on in May this year to begin your own consulting and advisory business. Transport Security World wishes you all the best for the future.
To find out more about the Transport Security & Safety Expo, which takes place in
Washington DC on June 11th and 12th, visit the show website.
If you would like to feature in a forthcoming 5 Minutes With.... contact Dave@TransportSecurityWorld.com
The last 5 minutes with… featured Kristina Tanasichuk, CEO of the Government Technology & Services Coalition.