July 1, 2004
When a driver for Hardin Delivery stopped at a Georgia truck stop on January 4, 2000, to take a shower, he expected to get clean but not cleaned out. While inside, his truck was stolen and its cargo of retail merchandise, mainly shoes, was gone. About a week later, operations manager Jeremiah Nordyke took a call from police saying that the truck was found parked at a gas station about five miles from

When a driver for Hardin Delivery stopped at a Georgia truck stop on January 4, 2000, to take a shower, he expected to get clean but not cleaned out. While inside, his truck was stolen and its cargo of retail merchandise, mainly shoes, was gone.

About a week later, operations manager Jeremiah Nordyke took a call from police saying that the truck was found parked at a gas station about five miles from where it was taken. The driver's own padlock had been easily knocked off, says Nordyke, but another locking device known as The Enforcer was not breached and the cargo was intact. Beyond this, he adds: “There's not much else you can do except take the hinges off with a torch. Strong locks are a serious deterrent to petty criminals.”

The Elizabeth, KY-based truckload carrier has been placing the $100 locks on their trucks since 1998. Along with this safeguard, Nordyke instructs his drivers never to drop a trailer except at the customer, don't stop in certain sections of some cities and always be on the look out for potentially dangerous situations. In addition, the company has gated drop terminals with security cards for access.

None of these measures is particularly sophisticated or complex, and it speaks to a movement among carriers of “going back to the basics” when it comes to cargo security and a balance between new and old technologies. In addition, carriers are scrutinizing all security measures to ensure that they provide a measurable return on investment.

With these trends in mind, many view cargo security as a three-step process:

Step One is about choosing the appropriate security equipment to help fight theft. This ranges from choosing heftier locks to installing location technology. Solutions must not only work but they must be cost-effective.

Step Two concerns setting protocols and procedures. Many of these “fixes” are old ones, especially those concerning seals, but carriers report a rededication to rules already on the books. Government and carriers often share the load in this area.

Step Three is about taking personal responsibility to bolster an anti-theft culture in your company. What's expected of workers, especially drivers, and what are managers' roles? This step also includes managers' responsibilities to train workers and institute background checks that protect everyone in the company, as well as cargoes.


  1. Susan Chandler, executive director of the Safety & Loss Prevention Council of the American Trucking Assns., agrees that the back-to-basics attitude is dovetailing with a return on investment. Her members are reporting that they're installing security cameras in terminals and warehouses and working with truckstop operators to keep trucks safe. “There are negotiations about roving security guards and cameras. Every security equipment outlay is done with an eye toward ‘Is it practical? Does it work? Is it worth the money?’”

    Jim McFarlin, director of safety & security for ABF, says his company has upgraded its fences and installed razor wire at some locations. Gate guards are situated in high crime areas, and there is an increased use of electronic security at terminals.

    Low-tech solutions like these are being noticed. “There was a time when electronics was the answer to every security concern,” says John Albrecht, vice president of Transport Security Inc. “Right now people are focusing on physical security, but we need both. We need a good balance of everything.”


    Albrecht, whose company offers The Enforcer lock, says that his customers want a very strong padlock with a restrictive keyway, which makes it harder for criminals to open. Still, they insist on a return on investment. He tells the story of one potential client who had $360,000 worth of meat stolen. He would have to take the profit from the next 360 loads to make up the loss. What he likes to hear are stories like the one about the stolen dropped trailer that had an Enforcer lock installed. The next morning it was found unopened with broken drill bits around the back door. The lock resisted the criminal's best efforts. “In the future, I expect to see physical security to be a more integral part of how carriers are run,” says Albrecht.

    A good example of the balance between return on investment and total lockdown may be an offering from Skybitz. The company installs GPS devices to track trailers — but with a twist. Instead of having the devices on continuously, customers request a “check in” or “wake up” schedule, as the company calls it. According to Roni Taylor, executive vice president, a common interval is every 90 minutes, with reporting once or twice daily of data stored in the device. Because the device is not on all the time, as is the case with conventional GPS trackers, batteries can last more than five years, she says.

    Customers can not only track cargo themselves through the Internet, but they can assign a password to shippers so they can track it.

    If a trailer is suspected of being stolen, customers request “panic mode” operation; the next time the device “wakes up” it will report every three minutes. The downside is that without real time reporting, a trailer can be stolen and unloaded hours before its next designated wake-up time. The upside is the lower cost compared to always-on, traditional GPS trackers. “Our customers are not willing to make an investment in just security, but want an ROI,” says Taylor. “This is a good compromise for many carriers.”

  2. Ed Emerick, consulting manager at J.J. Keller, says that carriers need to make sure security regulations are understood and followed, not only for dollars-and-cents reasons but because DOT is taking note of carriers' security plans. This is especially true for hazmat haulers. “We're doing a lot of security plan development for clients,” notes Emerick, who drove a truck for eight years before becoming a consultant.

    At ABF, for example, drivers are issued different locks for different areas. In New York City, the carrier's trucks are outfitted with very heavy locks that cannot be cut, McFarlin says. “Thieves have cut some locks on us and we know the areas where we have to take extra precautions.” Again, this is a simple solution that has more to do with enforcing procedures for how loads will be treated than the equipment itself.

    Likewise, when carriers and shippers discuss seals, they talk more about procedures than the equipment itself — and rightly so. Seals are not meant to stop theft, as some shippers have voiced, but used only as an indication that tampering has occurred and a proper response is indicated.

    Emerick says that when he drove he noticed that others did not always follow proper seals protocol. “The don't-break-the-seal rule has been around for a while, but not always enforced. That's changing.”

    “There's been a push back to basics with seals,” echoes Scott Smith, chairman of the Seals, Security Products Committee of the National Cargo Security Council. “Recipients are not accepting broken seal deliveries any more.”


    Johnny Bullock, Safety Manager at C.R. England, agrees. “A lot of customers are demanding seals and want to see it broken in front of them or break it themselves.” This is a change from past years when a driver routinely would pull into a dock, break the seal and begin unloading. With the specter of a terrorist attack, recipients are not taking any chances, especially with food items.”

    Smith, who is also president of Alpha Cargo Technology LLC, notes that although pricing has unfortunately hindered the correct implementation of seals, this is changing. “Before 9/11, clients argued about how to get the least expensive seal, wanting it to be below 10 cents in some cases. Now, users are willing to spend more — but it has to be worth more.” He says that carriers sometimes misunderstand the role of seals, which is not to keep a cargo secure but to let the carrier and recipient know that it has been tampered with so they can respond accordingly. Some cable seal models, he contends, can be opened and closed without showing signs of tampering. “You want a product that shows obvious tampering.”

    One trend he's seeing is users demanding that seals be tested and that manufacturers certify that the product does what they says it's supposed to do. He adds that electronic seals are coming on board, albeit slowly, but the same rules apply. “Electronic seals must do a lot of things, but they also must show tamper evidence.” He forecasts that when electronic seals hit a price point below $3 we'll see a lot more them being used.

    Like other vendors, Smith says that his products are only part of the overall security solution. “Seals are best used when part of a total system protocol.”

  3. In the end, the best equipment and best practices are useless without well-trained, vetted and responsible people, and many carriers are re-emphasizing training and background checks. McFarlin notes that the company has a long history of putting drivers and others through background checks. Its efforts at security are aided by having low turnover, around 7 to 8%, most of which is due to retirements. This longevity allows the company to enjoy the benefits of employees that have been well trained in safety and security procedures. “All security technology is good, but it is personal. It's about having the right people.”

He adds: “The big thing for us now is employee awareness and training in security procedures. It's about what we expect employees to do.” ABF employees are expected to report suspicious activity to someone in charge. Drivers are also understanding orders to lock unattended trucks. On the road, trucks may be sealed and not locked, but once left alone they must be locked. Although other carriers may have different sealing and locking rules, the most important issue is that each driver follows the company's particular rubric. This is crucial for insurance purposes, because insurers expect the carriers' employees to live up to agreed-upon rules; otherwise, loss claims will not be honored.

Although it may sound trite to experienced carrier managers, Emerick says that companies cannot hammer home to workers too much the importance of simple security measures. For example, he tells drivers not to park in the back row of truckstops, not to offer any information about their load, and not to tell people on the CB radio where they're going or when they'll be arriving. Emerick does not want to make people paranoid, but he does want them to use common sense. “We instruct drivers to time their deliveries in New York City, for example, for daylight hours. We also tell them to stay at certain truckstops and to avoid others.”

Procedurally, employees need to know their role in supply chain security. Emerick says employees should ask themselves: “What's my role? Where do I fit in? How are my partners protecting me?”

C.R. England's Bullock reiterates other managers' stance about placing the ultimate responsibility for security on drivers and other workers. “It always comes back to making sure we get quality people coupled with accountability and proper training.”


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