GREEN BAY, Wis. -Just like any naive traveller, truck drivers can be cavalier about their surroundings, and may become susceptible to risky situations such as cargo theft or violent encounters.
With $12 billion worth of cargo stolen every year in the US according to the International Cargo Security Council, truck drivers are being encouraged to take greater security measures, not only for their own safety but to prevent theft.
In an effort to address this costly problem, Schneider National has developed a security council with other prominent transportation stakeholders and law enforcement agencies, to highlight security measures that could be used by the transportation industry.
“Within the last few years, and especially during the holiday shopping season, we’ve seen a growing need to protect merchandise being shipped over the road and railways, most notably high-demand electronics,” says Walt Fountain, the director of enterprise security at Schneider National.
Collaborating on security measures with other supply chain providers has paid off well for one company associated with the new security council, according to Schneider.
The anonymous manufacturer became the victim of a high theft situation a few years ago, and suffered from significant loss until it tightened its security protocol. The manufacturer has gone from over $35 million in yearly theft losses, to zero.
While many of the new council’s initiatives are considered confidential for security reasons, Fountain offers some practical advice that he uses in training sessions with Schneider National drivers to provide optimum security for cargo and to ensure safety on the job.
“Our drivers are operating in a world that requires a lot of their attention,” says Fountain, a former army intelligence officer with 24 years experience in that service.
“It’s easy for them as they focus on one thing, to lose their focus on something else. It’s just human nature. We try to stress those points.”
For starters, Fountain indicates that armed hold-ups are not as common as one might expect, and he says it’s rare that he hears about an armed hold-up involving a truck.
“Certainly, the potential is out there,” he acknowledges.
First and foremost, Schneider training sessions emphasize common sense.
The security expert indicates the drivers are encouraged to become highly perceptive about their surroundings -especially when stopping at rest areas, and when exiting or approaching their parked vehicles.
“We do stress with our drivers that they need to maintain what we call ‘situational awareness,'” he says. “They need to know where they’re at, what they’re doing, and what’s happening around them.”
Fountain recommends that drivers hone their instincts when at a rest area, and to keep an eye out for suspicious activity or even a lack of other truckers.
Fountain says it’s not unlike choosing a restaurant, where the quality of the eatery may be suspect if there are not many vehicles in the parking lot. “If there aren’t a whole lot of trucks around, that may be an indicator,” says Fountain.
Another factor to consider when choosing a rest stop is lighting. Fountain advises that drivers should park in a well-lit area, especially if they stop for a rest before dark.
He suggests that drivers seek out rest stop lighting fixtures before hitting the bunk to allow for a bright and safe departure.
Fountain constantly warns about complacency.
“Look around as you’re getting out of your tractor. Make sure you know what’s happening around you. Who’s parked near you? If you see something that doesn’t look just right, certainly trust your judgment. Get back into your truck and move on,” he advises.
Truck drivers should also take a strategic approach when visiting a truck stop.
Fountain encourages drivers to take the exact same route on foot as when driving while departing from the concession or fuel facility.
“If you decide to take another route, you have no idea what could be on the other side,” he says of a potential for becoming disoriented and having an unexpected encounter with thieves. “You’re always best to walk in and walk out the way you drove in, because then you’ll know what to expect.”
Fountain’s security protocol also recommends that drivers who approach their vehicles, when departing from a rest area, should prepare for a swift, secure exit. Drivers should keep their keys in their hands and be ready to open their tractor door and step up quickly to higher ground. Otherwise they may get caught in an unsafe predicament.
“If they’re rummaging around in their pocket, trying to get their key off the chain or whatever they do, they’re vulnerable,” he says. “They’ve got their back to whatever’s happening around them.”
One other piece of advice for carriers is to insist on the use of generic seals on trailers.
“It seems like a small thing, but when you’ve got thieves shopping a yard, if they see a seal that has a name of an electronics manufacturer on it they’re betting it’s going to be a fenceable product. Again, we just don’t want to tip them off,” he points out.
Despite a tough guy image associated with the trade, encouraging greater security amongst truck drivers has not been difficult, according to Fountain. During annual training sessions, the company drivers share their own experiences and offer their own solutions for avoiding risk. It’s a strategy that drivers appear to accept and endorse.
“We’re all human, and at times we may scoff at good advice that’s provided to us,” says Fountain. “I’m sure some of that occurs in our fleet, and certainly within our industry. Our approach is that we provide reminders to our drivers. It’s not that we’re smarter than they are. It’s just that within their normal routine it is likely that they are going to become complacent.”
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