Truck News


DECISION 2002: SECURITY: Is your risk management plan capable of dealing with the terrorist threat?

Heading into 2002, with the shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks still reverberating through the North American transportation system, risk management is taking on a whole new meaning for Canad...

Heading into 2002, with the shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks still reverberating through the North American transportation system, risk management is taking on a whole new meaning for Canada’s fleet owners.

Prior to September 11, risk management basically included avoidance of accidents and dealing with the increasing preponderance of cargo theft. Now fleet owners, particularly those running HAZMAT cargo into the US, must somehow guard against their vehicles also being used as weapons of mass destruction in new terrorist acts. Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center, US government investigators discovered that some of the suspected terrorists had managed to obtain commercial drivers licenses in the US with HAZMAT endorsements.

At the same time fleet owners will have to guard against the inevitability of lobby groups, such as CRASH and owner/operator associations, which have been bashing the trucking industry for some time seizing on current tensions and uncertainties to further their political agendas.

How real is the possibility that trucks could become the next vehicles of mass destruction and that as a result trucking will become hostage to terrorist actions? It depends who you talk to.

“There is a greater sense that we have to be aware of who is driving our trucks. Our own customers are demanding this information. Carriers will have to really know who is driving their vehicles and know their backgrounds. There will be a greater focus on who the driver is. But the idea that trucks are the next weapons of mass destruction is somewhat overdone,” says David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and president of the Ontario Trucking Association.

Patrick Byrne’s thinking is along the same lines. The vice president of management consulting firm AT Kearney, and a panelist on a session about the future of the North American transportation industry held in Kansas City a few weeks after the September 11 attacks, sees truck transportation as actually a lot more secure in comparison to rail. “By its ubiquitous nature, truck transportation is a lot less vulnerable,” he says.

That type of thinking doesn’t appear to be in line with US government concerns, however. According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA), the threat of trucks being used in future terrorist attacks is real. That’s the message FMCSA’s Montana State Director, Kris Phillips, recently delivered to members of the Alberta Trucking Association at the association’s annual meeting.

“We truly believe they are going to use our own hazardous materials against us in evil ways,” says Phillips. “We don’t want people to be paranoid, we just want people to be vigilant because that’s what’s going to stop most of the problems that are going to happen.”

Recently the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) in the US blasted its way into the debate with a press release provocatively titled “Normal Business Practices in Trucking are an Open Invitation to Terrorists.”

“In their quest to find warm bodies to fill truck seats, far too many trucking companies have all but abandoned hiring and employment practices that would sustain a stable, reliable and a safety and security-minded workforce,” OOIDA claimed. “Some people would have you believe that security could be enhanced by government mandates for more thorough background checks of drivers, when routine business practices in the industry show that little checking is done today and little use is made of the information that is available now.”

While the OOIDA release may be attributed, at least in part, to political maneuvering by an association that has long feuded with fleet owners (its action was similar to what our own National Truckers Association attempted to pull off earlier this year when the fledgling owner-operator association told the national media that carriers were playing with public safety by pushing drivers to drive excessive hours and fudge their logbooks) but it does contain one inarguable kernel of truth: that a driver can be the greatest security threat.

“While your employees are your first line of defence, they’re also your biggest liability,” warns FMCSA’s Phillips. She advises managers to do thorough background checks keeping a watchful eye out for lengthy employment gaps, suspicious past employers and fake documentation.

“(Maintaining) contact with drivers once a day is not sufficient anymore,” she stresses. She says there should be a code word in place that could be used by a driver in distress, should he find himself being hijacked.

She suggests if fleets let their guard down, they become susceptible to one of the biggest threats existing today – identity theft. The FMCSA is fearful that terrorists will try to steal a truck and trailer from a well-known, large fleet and then use it to melt into the infrastructure.

“They want to take a company name that’s well known, they want the vehicle then ‘BOOM,’ they’re gone,” says Phillips. “You know very well that if it’s your company’s truck and it explodes in a million pieces the only thing that’s going to survive that explosion is (your logo). There will be a little piece of metal with your company name on it on the front page of every newspaper.”

With the US in a heightened state of security, HAZMAT drivers are also being asked to take special precautions to make sure they don’t find themselves in hot water. That means avoiding high profile areas (including tunnels and bridges whenever possible), sticking to dangerous goods routes and reporting breakdowns immediately.

If fleet owners and managers think the suggestions are over the top, Phillips counters with the story of a trucker who was found to have lied to Customs agents about his citizenship. Upon inspection, they discovered the Jordan native had HAZMAT certifications from Montana and Florida, a pilot’s licence and illegally owned weapons. He was hauling dangerous goods to Miles City, Montana – the home of America’s biggest producer and stockpiler of black powder.

“They’re in our backyard folks,” she warns. “Our gates, are open and we don’t have security cameras. They’ll come right up and shake your hand.”

Print this page

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *