Securing the trucks

The trucking industry stood shell-shocked along with the rest of America on Sept. 11 as terrorists used hijacked commercial airlines in suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. Days later, however, the industry received a second jolt as the Justice Dept. arrested about 10 men in three states who allegedly tried to fraudulently obtain commercial

The trucking industry stood shell-shocked along with the rest of America on Sept. 11 as terrorists used hijacked commercial airlines in suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.

Days later, however, the industry received a second jolt as the Justice Dept. arrested about 10 men in three states who allegedly tried to fraudulently obtain commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) for the purpose of hauling hazardous materials. Though none of the men were directly linked to the terrorists who conducted the attacks, it fanned fears among many in the transportation community that commercial trucks could be used as weapons of mass destruction.

Tim Henebry, president of Paccar Leasing Co. (PacLease), says the terrorist attacks, coupled with the CDL scam, started a debate among trucking companies about how to better secure their tractors and trailers. “Much of the discussion about safety technology has shifted,” says Henebry. “The industry is focusing on truckload security — especially with regard to hazardous or flammable materials. How do you secure your load? How can you prevent a hijacking? How can you verify the identity of the person driving your truck? These are just a few of the questions facing us today.”

Henebry points out that a variety of technologies already in use could be modified to provide a higher level of truck security.

“We expect to see greater proliferation of driver identification technologies,” he says. “Cummins Engine's RoadRelay system, for example, requires an identification code to be entered before the vehicle will start. Kenworth Truck Co. is currently evaluating a fingerprint recognition system on its ‘High-Tech’ truck. Linked to the ignition, the system only allows authorized drivers to start the engine.”

We could also make use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology beyond tracking vehicles or communicating with drivers. “In the worst-case scenario, the technology now exists for a GPS-based system to shut down a truck remotely,” Henebry says. “There are also systems available that track trailer location, which is critical because a trailer can be dropped and picked up by a second tractor.”

However, such high-tech security options may be a long way off, warns one expert, as the technology involved must itself be “hardened” against terrorists and other criminals so it doesn't get used against fleets and the public at large.

“I think a lot of people are thinking about such GPS-based security systems, but it's not easy to do,” says Curtis Jacobson, lead electronics engineer for Volvo Trucks North America. “Those systems have to be fail-safe,” he warns. “What if a hacker gets into a fleet's computer network and shuts all of its trucks down? You've also got to think about what would happen in a false-alarm situation; you have to make sure that a ‘shut-down’ lets the truck driver steer safely out of traffic. We won't promote such security technology until it's been tested thoroughly.”

Jacobson manages five engineers in Volvo's Intelligent Vehicle Div., which is focused on developing a range of high-tech systems for Class 8 trucks. Safety systems, which include security devices, typically represent about one-third of the workload for Jacobson's team. Since Sept. 11, however, his team is working almost full-time on security system issues

“One thing that's particularly important to Volvo in the security debate is that we must keep our customers rolling. If American truckers can't move freely and efficiently, our country will be in even greater danger,” he says. “One of my personal interests is helping authorities improve flow through security checkpoints while making the checkpoints more effective.”

Jacobson says the electronic weigh station and toll-booth technology used for existing PrePass and EZ Pass devices could be modified to provide trucking fleets with more information for security purposes.

“We could use what I call ‘electronic modules’ that record and store data such as whether a truck deviates from a pre-planned route or whether the trailer was opened in transit,” he says.

According to Jacobson, it's important to make such security technology cost-effective. “If a fleet uses such an electronic module, not only is it getting more data for security purposes, but it's also getting clearance faster through weigh stations and border crossings. The system should also record operating data, which can be used to help fleets operate more efficiently and provide valuable diagnostics information. That makes it multi-purpose technology,” Jacobson says.

Simple measures, however, may still provide the best security options, says Larry Strawhorn, vp-engineering for American Trucking Assns.

“One of the best things a fleet can do right now is to have drivers shut down their trucks and lock their doors at warehouses, restaurants, and other places when they're not with the vehicles,” he says.

“Many of the high-tech security measures being discussed really come into cost-effective play at border crossings. Having shippers secure trailers with an electronic locking system so they can't be opened without an alarm going off until they reach a consignee could speed them through inspection stations. That has security and operational benefits.”

Strawhorn adds, however, that a close look at the classified advertisements of any local newspaper may make such security technology superfluous. “There are used Class 8 trucks for sale for as little as $5,000. Armed with a CDL and a little cash, a terrorist doesn't need to steal a truck — he can go out and buy a used one.”

Virtual fences for trucks

As truck technology experts debate the wisdom of using global positioning systems (GPS) to shut down hijacked commercial vehicles by satellite, two companies have developed a method for using GPS to build invisible fences around them.

The “geo-fencing” system — developed by Maptuit Corp. and American Millennium Corp. — sounds an alarm if a truck deviates from a designated route. The system uses Maptuit's AVL mapping, directions and geo-fencing software and American Millennium's tracking and monitoring products, including a dispatcher alarm device called SatAlarm.

This combination not only allows dispatchers to track trucks in real time via satellite, it also notifies them when vehicles are off their designated route. Drivers and/or dispatchers can choose from a set of recommended routes and set geo-fences around them. If a truck unexpectedly exits this predetermined area, the company, as well as local, state and federal authorities (if appropriate) are alerted.

Maptuit's software uses coordinates obtained by American Millennium's GPS system to locate vehicles on the road network. Dispatchers then follow the trucks on a road map on their computer screen, comparing their positions to the truck-safe routes they have been assigned.

The system can also pinpoint a truck's location on a digital aerial photograph to help law enforcement get to a potentially hijacked vehicle faster.

“With recent security concerns, requests to proactively track the whereabouts of gasoline trucks, hazardous-chemical trucks and other assets have been overwhelming,” adds Papows. “This system helps them do just that.”

For daily trucking news, go to www.fleetowner.com

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