Cover Story: Security Blanket

by Carroll McCormick

Geo-corridors, geo-fences and panic buttons. This sampling of terms hints at the lingo of the security-conscious; the labels for the tools that keep dangerous goods out of the wrong hands and ensure delivery into the right hands. Some tools date back a decade and more and others are just hitting the market. Security and safety were not invented last September 11, but they are certainly higher now on transport companies’ “Must Do” lists than ever before.

Since September 11, says Brian McBurney, CEO of McBurney Transport in Hagersville, Ont., authorities are going back to the checks and issues and permits of years ago, “when there was more enforcement and safety ideals.” According to McBurney, dangerous goods had almost come to be treated like general freight, but he sees the coming of requirements such as automatic load tracking with alarm, automatic deviation and constant communication.

McBurney, whose 80 tractors and 225 trailers haul explosives and general freight, has been using Qualcomm’s OmniTRACS since 1994 to increase load and driver security. This communication and tracking system, distributed in Canada by Mississauga-based Cancom Tracking Solutions, communicates via two Telesat satellites over Canada and two GE satellites over the U.S., keeping drivers in constant communication with their dispatchers without having to leave the cab. Keeping drivers in their tractors reduces their exposure to hijackers. “We go to some pretty rough areas, so driver security is an issue,” says McBurney.

McBurney’s drivers may also have a panic button, depending on what they are hauling. “The panic button originally came into play when we were dealing with the United States Department of Defense. With the DoD, if the driver pressed that panic button, the police could be there within 20 minutes. After 9/11 you are aware of security to the general public. Today you are trying to prevent [theft of explosives]. If you are hauling hazardous goods you want to know immediately if something is amiss.”

The OmniTRACS panic button connects to Cancom’s 24/7 tracking hub in Oakville, Ontario. One time, says McBurney, “I had it used by a driver who didn’t know what it was. The Cancom 24/7 monitor phoned me at 2:00 in the morning.” Within five minutes of the button being pushed McBurney received the call from Cancom. Within 10 minutes he was on the phone with the driver, who admitted it was a mistake caused when he was trying to find his backup lights. “Afterward I called back Cancom and said the alert was not serious. They said, ‘Thank you very much Mr. McBurney,’ and took [the alert] off the screen.”

Qualcomm recently introduced a wireless panic button drivers can take out of the cab with them. Baltimore, Maryland’s Corp Ten International also sells a wireless panic button for drivers’ use in Mexico. It transmits an alarm over GlobalWave, the satellite-based asset management, monitoring and tracking solution owned by Vistar Telecommunications and run by Vistar Datacom, its North American regional operator.

GlobalWave transmits the alarm, and other information such as processed GPS signals, from a transceiver usually mounted in the trailer, via a satellite positioned over North America to Vistar’s land-earth station in Reston, Virginia. From there the signal goes over the Internet, where Vistar Datacom’s clients access the data on password-protected Web sites.

PeopleNet Communications Corp., headquartered in Mineapolis, Minnesota, offers an emergency communications service over the cellular network. “If the driver has trouble or sees something going awry, he just keys 911 into his phone and it connects him to emergency response. Dispatch automatically receives emergency notification and location information,” explains Brian McLaughlin, PeopleNet’s Marketing Director.

The ability to communicate with tractor/trailer-mounted computers has spawned other security tools; for example, Vistar Datacom can monitor four switches with its MT2000 satellite transceiver. By monitoring a proximity switch mounted close to the kingpin, the transceiver alerts a user if someone without the proper authorization hooks up to a trailer. Similarly, GlobalWave offers a tool that monitors the access door on top of a tanker or the control valve that dispenses the tanker’s contents.

“Typically, a truck fleet will install a door switch as protection against unauthorised entry or tampering. If a trailer [is] violated, the company will know about it in 45 seconds,” says Stan Graff, Vistar Datacom Director of Transportation Markets. On the R&D side, adds Graff, “we have a company that is working with a door locking company to [create a product that will] lock the door [remotely].”

Paradigm Advanced Technologies, an international GPS navigation and tracking solutions provider in Richmond Hill, Ontario, can tie its PowerLOC Tracker, which can operate on both radio frequency and cellular media, into a security lock on a door and send a signal to the control centre if unauthorized use is detected; Paradigm can also configure its system for a panic button. Paradigm sets up a complete dedicated computer-based tracking system at the transport company or at some other approved site for tractor-trailer monitoring,

In mid-May Qualcomm announced three new security enhancements for OmniTRACS: Driver Authentication, which, with a unique ID and password, verifies driver ID and authorization to operate the vehicle; a wireless panic button; and Tamper Detection features that alert fleet management or the driver if someone tries to disable the OmniTRACS unit.

The most remarkable capability these services providers have, however, is that of providing transport companies with precise positioning, direction and speed information, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense Global Positioning Satellite Standard Positioning Service.

After the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center, says Brian Hay, Paradigm’s Vice President, Communications,” We were chosen to provide the tracking devices on the trucks used to remove the material from the WTC site. It monitored trucks on a second-by-second basis. The system would set off an alarm if there was a significant deviation from a set travel schedule.”

Traxis Inc., a Vancouver, British Columbia software solutions provider to the transportation industry, has made exquisite use of the GPS capability to enhance safety by monitoring truckers’ compliance to highway laws and load-checking schedules. In mid-2000 Traxis launched a comprehensive safety management program for Alberta Pacific Forest Industries Inc.

“There is a huge amount of traffic and the average haul distance is 400 kilometres,” says Adil Cubukgil, Traxis’s Founder,President and CEO. “There were issues concerning speeding through school zones, etc.” Alberta Pacific wanted the contractors to obey the speed limits. “We designated all of the special areas, such as the 50 km/hr zones and communities. We programmed all of this in the Vehicle Monitoring Unit, the on-board computer installed in the tractors.

“By using GPS and a one-second update rate, the truck knows when it is entering one of these zones and that such and such a speed limit applies. If the trucker doesn’t slow down, it is noted as an exception. We slowed the trucks down. We also marked railway crossings so trucks would come to a full stop. We also designated areas where the truckers had to stop to check their load wrappers. We built very extensive rules into this application.”

Users can see their trucks’ routes on maps that show detail to street level, as well as access, as can users through other companies’ systems, near real-time information on their trucks’ location. Depending on the company and the loads, positional information can be transmitted as often as once a minute to just once a day.

Cubukgil continues: “We are now working with Cancom and Qualcomm with new applications: One is aimed at dangerous goods and munitions – an area where there is almost an obsession with safety and security aspects. We can map out a route and put a fence around it. We can monitor everythin
g that goes on along that route. You can trigger a message back to dispatch that a truck has left a designated route and alert a designated authority. Geo-fencing has found a lot of application in the security area. We can specify special operating conditions. If there are any exceptions to the rule you can trigger a real-time alert.”

Paradigm can configure PowerLOC Tracker to have a geo-fence around a truck, so that an alarm will sound if a truck has left a city or prescribed area. The geo-fence can be as small as 50 meters in radius; e.g., for a truck parked in a compound, but says Hay, “It is normally used in a larger operating area, say for a delivery truck.”

PeopleNet has used GPS to create a movement alarm. “When you know the vehicle is supposed to be parked, the dispatcher can set a movement alarm so if the vehicle is moved, he is alerted,” says McLaughlin.

PeopleNet is developing geo-fencing and geo-corridor tools. McLaughlin describes two types of geo-fence: “Say I don’t want a vehicle to go more than 10, 50 or 100 miles away from a specific landmark,” says McLaughlin. Put a geo-fence around a specific landmark, say a city centre or distribution centre. “Or, you can have a prohibited landmark such as a nuclear power plant. If the vehicle comes within, say, 10 miles of the power plant, an alarm is sent to the driver, dispatcher or the landmark itself. Is the driver doing what he is supposed to do or is he doing something suspicious?”

Users can also build geo-fences remotely over the Internet with GlobalWave. “Once a trailer has been put in an area and we do not want it to leave that area, you can send a command that restricts the trailer to a specific radius – anywhere from a few metres to several kilometres. As soon as it goes outside of that area, an alarm will go to whoever is supposed to be notified,” says Graff.

Post September 11, the focus has been on the driver, says Graff. “With a trailer tracking device you are not relying on the driver to communicate with you. You can track the trailer independent of the driver. One U.S. chemical shipper has actually specified that they will put our units in its fleet so it can track and locate its tankers anywhere in North America. This will take place about May 21. This is the first time that I am aware of, where a shipper is requiring that a fleet carry this equipment.”

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