Terrorism is quickly reshaping our lives. Nine months ago, it was a foreign problem largely experienced here as horrendous photos in the news from remote and politically troubled lands. Today, it's far more personal as we routinely line up for security checks at public events or try to understand the message behind the periodic “heightened security alerts.” This is all very new to most of us, and the struggle is to bring some type of sanity to what is truly an insane situation.
One way to deal with such immense issues is to filter them through personal experience, which often means we end up with an unbalanced perspective that puts an unrealistic emphasis on the things we know best. The country's economy, for example, is often viewed by those in trucking as largely a matter of freight levels. But with domestic security and terrorism, trucking is, from any perspective, right in the middle of things. Trucking is facing serious issues with implications that go far beyond its normal business boundaries.
Start with asset control. If a company uses commercial vehicles, it's going to be expected to know who its drivers are before it puts them in those trucks, where they are when they're on the road and when they deviate from planned routes.
You're talking about significant changes in licensing and hiring procedures and real-time monitoring of vehicles. You're talking about national databases to check driver identities and records, and some type of system linking law enforcement with fleet monitoring activities.
Then there's increased inspection of both drivers and trucks at border crossings, bridges and tunnels, ports, dams, power plants, or any site that could be targeted by terrorists attempting to turn trucks into bombs. Fleets are justly proud of the productivity gains made with great effort over the last 20 years, but the industry is simply going to have to accept erosion of those gains in pursuit of security mandates and the greater public good.
These are only the most obvious effects of heightened security, and there will be others as we head down this road. I haven't heard any serious complaints from anyone involved in trucking, and that's not a surprise. This is a down-to-earth business with a pervasive, practical “can do” attitude that prefers to deal with problems head on rather than waste energy complaining about things that need to be done.
But the national imperative to deal with terrorism doesn't mean you shouldn't ask questions or expect to help shape initiatives that directly affect your fleet. We are being forced as a nation to deal with an emergency situation, but we're still a participatory democracy whose strength is the knowledge and experience of its individuals. As an expert in trucking's operations, you should be ready to offer your suggestions.
Does that open you to charges of opportunism? Yes. There's a fine line between civic responsibility and self-interest, a line that's often invisible to those with less than a perfect understanding of this business. But it's a risk you need to take, one that's far overshadowed by our need for truly effective protection against those that would use your industry to harm your country.