The deadly terrorist attack on London’s mass transit system yesterday should serve as a wake-up call for U.S. trucking companies to review and update their security plans, contend industry experts.
Highway Watch ISAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Center), a Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS)-funded program run by the American Trucking Assns. that deputizes highway transportation workers to report potential terrorist activity, has responded to the attacks in England by intensely communicating with its members, especially those in public transit.
“[Highway Watch] had a meeting with UMA (United Motorcoach Assn.) and ABA (American Bus Assn.)-- which represent hundreds of busing companies—at which a representative of the Dept. of Homeland Security gave an update at three o’clock on what had happened up until then,” Don L. Rondeau, Highway Watch director, told Fleet Owner.
“We were hearing information directly from the scene [in London] that can determine the actual timeline and how to look for the tracks that match the timeline associated with the attacks,” Rondeau said. “We have people that will alert us to that pattern so that such an attack could be prevented. Every crime has pre-operation activity including planning and implementation. There are patterns that precede the event. The better they can prepare themselves, the better position they are in to prevent an attack.”
Yesterday DHS raised the official terrorist threat level from “elevated” to “high” for mass transit systems in the U.S. The concern over mass transit has led many trucking professionals to step up their preventive efforts as well.
“The key with transportation security today is you can’t back off – this incident in London should be a reminder for trucking companies to take a fresh look at their security plans to make sure they are doing everything they need to be doing,” Tom Walker, field operations manager and security expert for West Chester, PA-based regional LTL carrier A. Duie Pyle, told Fleet Owner.
“Security plans are living, breathing documents that need constant review to make sure that you ‘walk it like you talk it,’ in terms of what a security plan calls on a carrier to do,” he said.
Bruce Wishart, director of safety and security for Indianapolis-based truckload carrier Celadon Group, said the bombings generated phone calls from drivers who wanted to share ideas on how to improve security at the company. He said that’s a direct result of the company’s participation in the Highway Watch program. To date, about 500 to 600 of Celadon’s 2,500 drivers have completed the Highway Watch course at a rate of 40 to 50 a week.
“This helps me because I’m not in charge of security alone anymore – I’ll have 2,500 drivers involved as well,” he told Fleet Owner. “That’s critical because security can’t be a ‘top down’ management-driven effort to succeed – everyone has to be involved and recognize its importance. That heightened security mindset is why drivers called me today. They heard about the bombings on the news and wanted to share their ideas because they know something like that could come home to us.”
“This is an example of a ‘weapon of mass effect’ and this changes the rules,” Erik Hoffer, president of CGM Security Solutions, a cargo security device manufacturer based in Punta Gorda, FL told Fleet Owner. “A weapon of mass effect doesn’t have to be a big bomb or destroy a lot of buildings. Just look at what the London attacks did -- they practically shut down the city.”
Hoffer, who serves as seminar chairman for the Annapolis, MD-based International Cargo Security Council, added that no amount of security planning can completely prevent a determined terrorist from making an attack. What planning and “hardening” trucks and warehouses against attacks can do, however, is make it more difficult for a terrorist to accomplish their goal – and perhaps lessen the impact of an attack.
Celadon’s Wishart noted that his company is looking at installing devices on its trucks that would allow him to shut the vehicle down remotely if it’s hijacked or stolen, even if it’s moving. That’s in addition to investments it’s already made in closed circuit digital camera systems for each of its terminals – including those in Mexico – so all of the carrier’s terminals can be viewed from his office.
“We’re investing a lot of money in security but we believe there’s a big return on that investment – especially in terms of peace of mind for our customers,” he explained. “They need to know that their cargo is safe and we need to know we’re doing everything to protect their goods, our people, and the general public. Because the last thing either of us wants to see is one of our trucks with their freight on it on the news involved in an incident.”
One of the main worries A. Duie Pyle’s Walker has about repercussions for the U.S. transportation industry in light of the London bombings is a “knee-jerk reaction” by the federal government.
“We’re still feeling the effects of the security efforts the government rushed into after the attacks of September 11, and that event occurred 3 ½ years ago,” he said. “A lot of the regulations that came out of the terrorist fears caused by that event have proved to be a difficult pill to swallow for this industry. So I’d hate to see more knee-jerk reactions in light of these bombings.”
However, Walker warned that the bombings cannot – and should not – be ignored because of the need to guard against similar incidents occurring in the U.S.
“Carriers have to be sure they are secure – we have a duty not only to protect our employees and out customer’s cargo but to protect, by extension, the general public as well,” he said. “Nothing angers me more than seeing a tractor-trailer with hazardous materials placards on it pulled over on the side of a highway so the driver can get his 10 hours of rest. That’s a security risk-- an open invitation to trouble.”