Don L. Rondeau has left his post as Highway Watch director, a position he held for about three years while the program, run by ATA, was strengthening ties with the Dept. of Homeland Security to become an embedded intelligence-gathering and threat-assessment arm.
Rondeau has accepted a position as senior executive for homeland security with Alion Science and Technology, a technology solutions company with numerous Defense Dept. contracts.
Rondeau has worked with intelligence agencies, law enforcement bodies and the highway communities, including trucking, buses and mass transit, to ensure that the highway sector receives credible terror threat assessments from a single source.
The industry’s need for a clear, consistent source was apparent in August when the FBI, which is under the DHS umbrella, issued an advisory to local law enforcement officials about potential terrorist attacks in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago around Sept. 11 using fuel tanker trucks, only to later be downgraded by DHS the same week. While some law enforcement agencies informed the trucking industry, others did not--adding to the confusion.
“That was the product of the infancy of the information sharing age, so it was bound to occur that [the intelligence community would] have disagreements of what’s credible and what’s not,” Rondeau told FleetOwner. “The intelligence community at large was just starting to turn theory into a practice. That was fraught with cultural barriers and mission barriers in the sense that what’s [important] information to intelligence, is not [necessarily important to] law enforcement. For example, it’s not against the law to take pictures of a fuel truck.”
Subsequently, Highway Watch endorsed a policy whereby intelligence and law enforcement officials would reach a consensus on a threat level before disseminating the information to trucking and the general public.
Information sharing and dissemination among intelligence and law enforcement communities had since matured, Rondeau said.
“The hurricanes that hit the Midsouth hastened the evolution out of necessity,” Rondeau explained. “We’ve developed ways to focus our communities. We recognized just because it’s not important to you, it doesn’t mean it’s not important to someone else.
“The next step the intelligence community has to embark on is to enhance our analytical capabilities,” Rondeau continued. “Right now we do a good job recording incidents. Now we have to establish analytical processes that could access the risk of the threat of a terrorist attack. It’s a very organic process. We’re talking tens of millions pieces of information collected on a daily basis. Absent the right tools, the right analysts will not see the missing piece to the puzzle.”
To date, Highway Watch has trained nearly 250,000 transportation professionals to identify and report emergencies and suspicious activities. Rondeau noted that although many large carriers have been trained and developed security protocols, he believes vulnerabilities remain in many medium and small trucking companies.
“I think that it will be difficult but we must do it,” Rondeau said. “We have to recognize that the owner-operator and the mid-sized trucking companies make up the bulk of the industry. They make up a significant portion of the risk associated with any potential event. If you’re a bad guy would you take advantage of a large corporation, or a guy that’s driving in his office? At the end of the day…we’d be remiss if we didn’t make sure that all members that are elements of the transportation sector could harden their security.”
The Highway Watch program, started in 1998 in partnership with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, was created to train truck drivers to report emergency situations and suspicious activity to appropriate state law enforcement agencies. In April 2002, former ATA president & CEO William Canary positioned Highway Watch to be part of DHS’s terrorism information and prevention network.
“Enlisting America's 3.1-million professional truck drivers nationwide to serve as the eyes and ears adjunct to law enforcement would have a tremendous impact on efforts to prevent terrorist attacks at home,” Canary wrote to former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge.
Under Rondeau’s leadership, DHS allotted Highway Watch $19.3 million in March 2004 and $21 million in 2005. In September, just months after a deadly terrorist attack on London’s mass transit system, Congress budgeted a $4.8 million grant to the program for 2006.
Highway Watch has yet to name a new director.