Is it safe?

A report released by the Government of the United Kingdom slams the massive inadequacies of communications technology installed on the London Underground railway system. It blames these communications inadequacies for making the work of the emergency ambulance and fire crews far more difficult during the London terrorist bombings last July.

Sadly, we are all too familiar now with the role of cell phones during terrorist attacks. Who can blame people for wanting to contact family and friends to reassure them? But the issue is that these calls rapidly saturate the cell networks, and this is what caused the big problems experienced by the emergency services in London last July.

During the terrorist attacks, ambulance and fire crews relied heavily on cell phones while working down in the subway system. Why? Because the radio network in the London Underground system is known to be unreliable. In fact, numerous recommendations over the past few years have urged that this situation be rectified. It does no good for Government and railway management to blame an aging rail network (some of it dates back to the 1930s) for not installing a modern radio communications network on the London Underground railway. The threat of terrorist attacks on any city always holds with it the strong possibility that such attacks will be aimed at transport systems, particularly when operating at peak traveling times.

It will be interesting to observe the response of officialdom to this report, particularly since it comes at a time when considerable thought and investment is going into the London Underground system. The reason is that London will stage the 2012 Olympic Games, and the underground rail links must be able to efficiently and safely transport hundreds of thousands of people from airports in West London to the Games in East London.

Wonderful international sporting occasions like the Olympics always attract the attention of terrorists, as the citizens of Munich will testify following the Bader-Meinhof attacks during the 1972 Olympic games. There's no question, then, that now is exactly the right time to invest in upgrading the London Underground railway system. Let's hope that part of the investment will involve updating its wireless communications network.

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