The fall of the World Trade Center five years ago today gave the American public and lawmakers a rude awakening that terrorists are willing and able to turn our own transportation into a weapon.
The trucking industry has since been subject to scrutiny from federal and local agencies, security experts, trucking professionals and lawmakers seeking to prevent a truck-borne terrorist attack.
Buy five years after 9/11, hardening the trucking industry against terrorism remains a major challenge. To gauge the scope of this issue FleetOwner spoke to Don L. Rondeau, former director of the American Trucking Assns.-administered Information Sharing and Analysis Center component of the Highway Watch program and director of homeland security and emergency preparedness with Alion Science and Technology and Andrew Robertson, director of the Freight Transportation Security Consortium (FTSC) and president of ASI/Transmatch, a consortium of freight professionals specializing in asset financing and utilization.
Both experts noted that the size and diverse nature of the trucking industry remains an obstacle for policy makers.
“It took the federal government a while to realize that there’s a significant diversity in the types of trucking operations, so there are no one-size-fit-all options,” Rondeau said. “Those silver bullets don’t exist. We expended a great deal of energy to find the one policy or procedure that would solve our problems—trucking knew all along that couldn’t be done.”
“The trouble with trucking is that it’s fragmented,” Robertson said. “It’s difficult to fashion together anything like a coherent policy. On the government side there really hasn’t been much of a trucking security policy at all.”
Rondeau said that public-private coordination has improved over the years and that has had a positive impact on securing trucking. He now heads the Washington DC office of the International Assn. for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals.
“The sector coordinating council is composed of trucking security company executives, trucking stakeholder associations and their federal counterparts,” Rondeau explained. “If there is some sort of operational concern they could work together to devise a solution that will impact the crisis. There’s still some challenges relative to redundancy. If we’re going to protect the trucking infrastructure and its profitability we’re going to have to consolidate accountability. We can’t expect an owner-operator to stay current with all the federal and state regulations in addition to invest in security. There’s a lot of ticks on this dog and at some point we’re going to have to help America and to do that we have to protect trucking.
“We’ll have to act with a greater sense of urgency and set up the deployment of security measures that don’t cost industry,” continued Rondeau. “It’s inherently unrealistic to place the burden of protecting America disproportionately on trucking. We need a flexible free-flowing trucking infrastructure that can be empowered to contribute to our safety. If you disproportionately place the burden on trucking, they have no choice but to pass that onto us. We have to think of a pro-business, pro-economy, pro-democracy way of doing this.”
Robertson said this is easier said than done. Through FTSC he has realized that getting Washington ro provide financial assistance to trucking companies seeking to invest in security technologies is difficult.
“We tried to create a financing solution called SEFCO a couple years ago,” Robertson said. “I was astonished about how little can happen in Washington. It would basically be a government-sponsored program to provide long-term loans to trucking companies for security devices. In spite of gaining some traction in Congress, the proposal never passed. “We had support from the Senate and House, Republicans and Democrats. But unless you have lobbyists, nothing happens.”
So far, the main thrust of federal efforts to secure the trucking industry has been through the ATA-administered Highway Watch program, which educates transportation professionals (including mass transit and bus workers) on how to report suspicious activities to authorities.
For fiscal years 2003-2006 the Dept. of Homeland Security allocated about $50 million to the Highway Watch program.
“Clearly the federal government views Highway Watch as the best way to address the issue of terrorism in trucking,” John Willard, Highway Watch spokesman told FleetOwner. “But if you compare it to funding on aviation you’re talking a difference of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
To comment on this article, email Terrence Nguyen at [email protected]