Security Starts at Home

I was reading the proofs of this month’s issue on a train to Montreal, and two stories stood out. The first was Marco Beghetto’s feature about hazmat carriers and security, specifically the more rigorous inspections some carriers have faced as they move fuel, fertilizer, and other cargo deemed dubious these days across the border. It turns out a suspected associate of the terrorists who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., had a commercial driver’s licence and a certificate to haul hazardous goods. If a commercial jet full of fuel could bring down a skyscraper, the theory goes, a tanker truck could deliver a blow that would be equally catastrophic.

This person applied for a job at a Chicago trucking company but was turned down after a routine background check turned up a traffic ticket. It was August; the carrier wasn’t operating on a heightened state of alert. It simply had hiring standards and stuck to them.

Security starts at home, and vigilance is an everyday ethic. While the media talks about the possibility of trucks being hijacked and used as weapons, the trucking industry continues to wage an ongoing battle with thugs who would steal valuable cargo. Losses from pilferage and theft amount to roughly $15 billion a year in Canada and the United States. There’s a black market for everything from alcohol to zinc, and some drivers face the threat of a confrontation every day. Ironically, New York City, the centre of so much attention, is one place drivers fear most.

Cargo theft peaks this time of year, not coincidentally when freight levels swell and people feel “needy.” Rarely is theft a random act: the bad guys know exactly what they’re taking and where the freight is going to be parked. They know because a driver or dockworker or someone else inside the company feeds them information. If Canadian governments really want to help improve security at trucking operations, they’d make it easier for employers to conduct criminal background checks on prospective new-hires.

I’m not holding my breath. Besides, security doesn’t require government intervention.

Start with a security audit. Don’t just scan the fencelines for clipped wires; you’d be surprised how easy it is to wander past the front desk with a smile and an, “Oh, I’m here to see so-and-so.”

Evaluate procedures for pick-ups and deliveries, and look for goods that aren’t where they’re supposed to be-near exits, in trash bins, and other places where they can easily walk out the door. Designate specific drivers for specific types of loads (particularly hazmat loads) and study the routes to be used. Tell drivers to verify seal integrity at each opportunity.

Write a company policy against cargo theft. Spare the legalese and clearly state your position against theft, and then define consequences that are fair. Verify that every worker has read the policy, and take time to answer any questions they have.

Most of all, talk about personal security with your drivers. One guy I know carries an extra wallet with a few bucks inside and little else. Another says he won’t stop to help unless it’s an obvious, life-threatening emergency. At a recent trade show, I ran into Daniel Canning of Montreal-based tarp-maker W.E. Canning. His company also makes body armor-a display model looked like a work vest you’d buy at Sears. “It won’t stop a bullet from a high-powered rifle, but from a handgun? Or a blow from an ice pick? No problem,”

Canning explains. Most are sold to the military and police, but truckers buy about 100 a year. The vest costs $400. “Cheap insurance,” says Canning.

Which brings me to that second story I like-a sidebar to the lead article in our Street Smarts section. It’s about Donald Porlier, a truck driver for Groupe Robert so shaken by a hijacking attempt in New York City several years ago that he quit the profession, and, in fact, just about gave up on life itself. The tale of his recovery appears on page 30. It, too, shows that security starts at home, although you may have to travel the globe to get there.

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