This month marks the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a day that set in motion a lot of change for our country as well as our industry. The question fleet managers must ask today, however, concerns where we are in that process of change. Have we moved far enough along to make the fleets of trucks that serve the country safe from terrorists.
In talking to experts, I'd say the results so far are mixed. “In terms of R&D on transportation security, we've made great headway,” says Bob Bevelacqua, exec.-vp for the WDC3 Group, a Reston, VA-based homeland security-consulting firm. “In terms of identifying problems and recommending solutions, we've made great headway. Our analysis of the gaps in transportation so far is superb,” explains the retired Green Beret Major. “But the real issue is the implementation and execution of security programs, both because of the size of the trucking industry and its tight budgets.”
Bevelacqua's take is that trucking won't implement new security technology and programs unless they are mandated by the government or made affordable through incentives. “Profit margins are so thin in this industry,” he says.
“My other concern is that we are laboring under a false sense of security, because the longer we go without experiencing an incident like Sept. 11, the less pressure there will be to change our ways.”
It's not that the government has been idle in beefing up security; it's just that trucking is a huge industry that has watched profit margins shrink as service demands skyrocketed.
In a recent speech, Commissioner Robert C. Bonner of the Customs and Border Protection Service noted that his agency processes over 1.1-million people and 300,000 cars, plus 57,000 commercial trucks and cargo containers every day in this country, making truck security an even tougher challenge. “We're increasing security in ways to prevent terrorists themselves from crossing our border and entering our country to carry out terrorist attacks.” The impact of this on the additional time it takes to get freight to its destination must also be taken into consideration. Bonner said that right after Sept. 11 U.S. Customs went to its highest security alert level ever, virtually shutting down the Canadian border. The wait times for commercial trucks at the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit jumped from 20 minutes to 12 hours, with wait times at the White Water Bridge to Port Huron, MI, going from 10 minutes to 10 hours.
But we really have no choice. The damage a terrorist could inflict by using a tractor-trailer as a giant bomb is unspeakable.
For fleet managers, however, the key is not losing focus on security despite the daily pressures of business. That's especially true for medium-duty fleets, as they ply the urban roads in America's cities more frequently than most. We're in the midst of a war on terror that is barely two years old, engaging our military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's only a matter of time, though, before the war once again comes home to us — and we have to be ready.
Major Drew Kosmowski, a field surgeon with the 28th Combat Support Hospital, reminded me of this in an email he sent this summer. “The only big risk in this war on terror is the loss of the will of our people back home,” he told me as we talked about the daily reports of soldiers lost in the line of duty.
We have to remember that we could again be on the front lines like we were on Sept. 11, and we have to face it with the same bravery and fortitude shown by the troops that have fought overseas for our nation these past two years.