Trucking & terrorism: the renewed threat

According to trucking experts, the potential for terrorists to use trucks as weapons is becoming a much more likely scenario in the U.S. The use of what the law enforcement community calls Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) truck bombs by any other name continues to be one of the most widely used weapons by terrorists worldwide, said Michael Coyle, president and CEO of Transportation

According to trucking experts, the potential for terrorists to use trucks as weapons is becoming a much more likely scenario in the U.S. “The use of what the law enforcement community calls Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) — truck bombs by any other name — continues to be one of the most widely used weapons by terrorists worldwide,” said Michael Coyle, president and CEO of Transportation Safety Technologies (TST) at McLeod Software's 14th annual User Conference.

Coyle stressed that the level of awareness needs to be raised in trucking as thefts of trucks, trailers, and cargoes such as fertilizer could be turned into weapons fairly easily — and that theft may be the easier method for attaining these tools for terrorists as well.

“Every truck rental agency is on the alert for suspicious persons trying to rent trucks for undetermined purposes with cash,” he explained. “There are over 542,363 trucking companies in the U.S. and 85% of them have five or fewer trucks, which means they can't afford security systems for their vehicles. So the situation is more ripe for theft.”

Coyle added that cargo theft — which represents an estimated $25-billion a year in losses in the U.S. and over $50-billion annually worldwide — is part of the problem, since it's not prosecuted as thoroughly as other crimes. “Many district attorneys won't prosecute a cargo theft where the load is under $100,000 in value;” he said. “That leaves an avenue open for theft to flourish.”

On top of that, the spate of lawmaking in the wake of September 11 has confused many in the trucking industry as to what they need to do to make themselves more secure, added Charles ‘Shorty’ Whittington, president of agricultural and hazmat carrier Grammer Industries.

“No one wants a truck to be used as a weapon, but all the new rules and regulations have overwhelmed the industry to a large degree,” he said. “Congress makes the general law but leaves it to federal agencies to fill in the specifics. We have to make sure the right people in these agencies are getting credible information to make good security rules that will do what they are supposed to do.”

He believes it must become a higher priority for truckers since both the federal government and the business community are placing a greater priority on it.

“Put it in perspective. Prior to the attacks of September 11, terrorism ranked 17th on the business community's list of concerns; now it's the number-three issue,” he said. “Inside Washington D.C. today, all you hear about are concerns about security because the federal government doesn't want trucks to be used as weapons. And frankly, if four trucks do what those four planes did on 9/11, this industry is going to be completely changed very quickly.”

Whittington said the intense focus on trucking is being felt out on the road, too. For example, he said that Grammer pays its drivers $100 every time they receive a clean roadside inspection. Typically, the company paid out $4,000 a year for this bonus.In the years following 9/11, however, it's been topping $25,000 annually.

“That means that our trucks are getting inspected a lot more frequently” he said. “As an industry have to be prepared for that focus. We have to develop a security plan, have a security director or officer in place to implement and monitor that plan, and keep abreast of new security rules and regulations.”

The key to this effort for fleets is to remember that you have to pass an inspection. “You have to be ready for a security audit; your plan will be reviewed,” he said. Make sure they meet “all applicable laws,” he cautioned.

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