One of the aftershocks of Sept. 11 has been a new security focus for America's transportation infrastructure — and no one is more aware of the challenges posed by that new focus than Transportation Secretary Norman Yoshio Mineta.
As head of the Dept. of Transportation (DOT), Mineta is responsible for the safety and security of 3.9-million miles of roads, 120,000 miles of railroads, 25,000 miles of commercial waterways, 5,000 airports and over 300 ports. His department must also keep tabs on over 4-million commercial trucks and drivers, as well as more than 400,000 trucking companies and 500 transit bus systems.
Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Mineta. He and his family were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced from their homes and into internment camps during World War II. That experience, however, did not deter Mineta from serving his country. After graduation from the University of California at Berkeley, Mineta served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea from 1953-56.
Mineta's political career began in San Jose, CA, where he served as mayor and as a city councilman. In 1974 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for 20 years. Mineta was chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee from 1992-94. He was also a key author of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991.
After leaving Congress, Mineta joined defense contractor Lockheed Martin as a vice president. He returned to public service in 2000, when he was appointed Commerce Secretary for the last six months of the Clinton Administration.
President Bush tapped Mineta for the top transportation post in 2001. When Mineta took office he said, “Transportation is key to generating and enabling economic growth, determining the patterns of that growth, and determining the competitiveness of our businesses in the world economy.”
After Sept. 11, however, improving transportation security became an overriding mission. Recently, FLEET OWNER asked Mineta to address a number of issues related to the impact of this new mission on trucking.
FO: What security concerns does DOT have when it comes to trucking? What kinds of solutions to problem areas does the agency recommend?
Mineta: There are a series of concerns. Two are primary. Our first concern is misuse of a truck — that is, a truck could be used as a missile or bomb and driven into or parked near a building or facility and then detonated. Second, a truck could be used to ship a weapon or bomb as cargo.
Our mission and priority is to prevent both and we are working with partners in many industries to develop creative solutions to security problems.
FO: Obviously, since Sept. 11, security has become a major issue for the entire transportation industry — airlines, ports, railroads, trucking companies, etc. Where does trucking rank in terms of the larger issue of transportation security?
Mineta: All are important. Trucking security is no less important than aviation security and I do not want to give trucking a higher or lower priority than aviation. You can judge from just the numbers alone: there are far more trucks than planes. [According to recent statistics, there are over 170,000 commercial and general aircraft in the U.S. versus 4-million commercial trucks].
We can see the loss a misused truck can cause by looking back at the Oklahoma City bombing. That truck was only a 20-footer. Consider the damage that a loaded 53-ft. tractor-trailer could do! It would be foolish to put a priority number on trucking security. All modes of transportation are important and we need to develop creative solutions to the terrorist threat for them all.
FO: Does DOT hope to get a lot of industry help in making trucking more secure? How would your agency like to see truckers raise the security bar? Would you like to see a set of voluntary standards and methods for the trucking industry?
Mineta: Yes, we are already receiving help from the industry. We are working with trucking organizations such as the American Trucking Assns. to improve security. We are co-sponsoring anti-hijacking and anti-theft training — explaining for instance, what drivers should do if they see something suspicious.
Finally, to answer your last question, I believe voluntary standards and methods — at least in the beginning — will be adopted by the trucking industry. Drivers are very positive and more than willing to help. Many are especially vigilant since Sept. 11 last year in support of our country's efforts to improve security.
I expect that we will be asking the different elements of the trucking industry to give us their thoughts about what is reasonable and what should remain voluntary. For the good of all, to strengthen security, we might at some point have to rely on established mandatory requirements.
FO: Does DOT see technology playing a big role in improving trucking security? Is more driver screening needed? Do the trucks themselves need to be hardened against hijacking and/or theft?
Mineta: Yes, technology will play an important role, but not as big a role in trucking as in some of the other modes of transportation. Seals, specifically “smart seals” for containers, are an example of how technology will help improve security for surface transportation.
But putting locks on containers — voluntary or even possibly regulated locks — would be a good start. That, in fact, would be a kind of hardening against hijacking and theft.
We are looking at the benefits of more [driver] screening. And we also really need better communication so that carriers, shippers, and operators can become sensitive to threats and thus are able to act accordingly.
I would also look for regulations requiring more security, especially for hazardous materials. We are looking at better credentials to help improve security in the hazmat area — credentials that would be hard or impossible to defeat.
Thorough background checks and good, common sense judgment based on improved background checks will be very important to improving credentials. That's why I say that technology will be important — but not, by itself, the solution.
FO: Many feel trucking security is closely intertwined with the issue of cargo theft — that reducing trucking losses to cargo thieves will occur by implementing procedures and technology that makes trucking more secure against terrorists as well. Do you agree or disagree?
Mineta: I emphatically agree. There is no question that by preventing and deterring theft we are also thwarting cargo-based security threats. This is a win-win situation. Where we can prevent theft, everyone benefits — shippers, trucking companies, and consumers. Preventing theft is a cost saving for all.
Our focus, though, at DOT in preventing truck and cargo theft will first and foremost be security — preventing the terrorist act. We are single-minded about stopping terrorists before they use vehicles or transportation facilities to strike, kill and destroy.
FO: Right after Sept. 11, FMCSA took the bold step of conducting more than 38,000 security sensitivity visits (SSV) for hazmat carriers. What areas of concern were uncovered?
Mineta: FMCSA received overwhelmingly positive feedback and cooperation from industry relating to its SSV program. It seems to me that the industry feels that the program is both important and necessary — and it is pleased by the primarily educational focus of this program.
SSVs have resulted in 280 findings of suspicious activities, with 126 referrals reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for such things as citizenship irregularities, suspicious inquiries, unexplained disappearances, and inappropriate verbal comments.
FO: In DOT's estimation, how worried should the trucking industry be that terrorists might try to compromise their vehicles and equipment, or their drivers?
Mineta: Look at the probabilities. The numbers alone convey the greater degree of risk we face in trucking. With nearly 6-million ocean-borne containers coming into the country every year, and about 2-million tractor-trailers operating here on a daily basis, we've just got to be prepared.
That's why the FMCSA and its partners in law enforcement conducted more than 38,000 SSVs since Sept. 11 on carriers transportation hazardous materials, on truck rental agencies, and at truck driver training schools. These visits helped us assess security vulnerabilities and will help us develop counter-measures to thwart terrorists. Security — along with safety — is our most important mission. We are intent on that.