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Manhole Covers: Gateways To Terrorism

Fear mole-men with bombs. That, more or less, is the message from <a href="http://www.securemanholes.com">Manhole Barrier Security Systems</a>, which on Monday warned that cities need to do more to protect against assaults on infrastructure launched by underground attackers.

Thomas Claburn

May 6, 2008

2 Min Read

Fear mole-men with bombs. That, more or less, is the message from Manhole Barrier Security Systems, which on Monday warned that cities need to do more to protect against assaults on infrastructure launched by underground attackers.More, in this case, consists of buying the company's patented locking manhole covers.

Mike Manoussos, the company's chairman and CEO, argues that it's too easy for terrorists and vandals to enter the subterranean world, where telecommunications and utility lines are buried.

Interestingly, that's a view shared by those not selling locking manholes. Irwin Pikus, a former commissioner of the U.S. President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, wrote a report titled "Manhole Security: Protecting America's Critical Underground Infrastructure." In it, he warns, "Without manhole security, the United States risks suffering significant consequences resulting from an attack on underground infrastructure, including incalculable economic damages, large numbers of civilian casualties, and considerable disruptions to our urban way of life."

The trouble is that Manhole Barrier Security Systems doesn't have an incident to cite that demonstrates how manholes have actually been exploited to cause harm. The company mentions the Feb. 26, 1993, blast in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, which though underground, has more to do with cars and bombs than manholes.

The company also points to how theft of manhole covers by the homeless in Philadelphia led to the injury of a graduate student and a multimillion dollar settlement. It's a sad case, to be sure, but one more of interest to municipal attorneys than to those responsible for security.

While there are certainly places where manhole covers should be locked, like prisons, the idea that replacing a heavy object with a locked one will deter a determined attacker vastly oversimplifies how physical security can be implemented. Imagine how much easier computer security would be if all one needed was a firewall.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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