Truck security devices abound as feds mull mandating their use
Driver, passenger and cargo verification, automatic truck shutdown devices, optical cargo scanners, vehicle and cargo tracking systems, container profiling software, geo-fencing and remote truck disabling technologies are among the dizzying array of security options that regulators may soon require of the trucking industry

by Dick Larsen, senior editor

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is keeping a close watch on the time between August and November — that’s when most al Qaeda attacks have occurred, the agency says.

DHS recently advised maritime and trucking industries of possible threats to ferry services. Trucking interests were warned to watch their rigs when approaching and loading near these vessels.

Meanwhile, the truck bomb at the United Nations operation in Baghdad Aug. 19 heightened concern about terrorism via trucks. That incident followed a truck bomb attack on a military hospital in a Russian province Aug. 1. And federal officials recently warned trucking companies and others of the possible theft of uniforms, credentialing and ID materials.

International developing telematics

International’s Jeff Bannister says the company is developing a telematics system that will send information from a truck to fleet maintenance or operations headquarters. The system for Class 6-8 trucks and buses will initially be optional, but Bannister said he hoped the technology would become a standard feature on new trucks over the next 10 years.

“(Telematics) tells us if a truck is in trouble, where it is and gives us the ability to stop it,” Bannister said.

Phil Christman, International’s vice president of product development, said there was little demand on truck manufacturers a year ago to provide security options.

However, “We now face a new range of security challenges that will bring about cost pressures,” Christman said. “OEMs can play a role by providing security. Both OEMs and truck manufacturers need to adapt these new systems with an eye toward cost effectiveness.”

“OOIDA is committed to informing its members and presenting its views to regulatory authorities on what can be done to ensure trucks are not used to carry out terrorist acts,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “We see hijacking as the most likely security threat facing the typical truckdriver. And while carriers and shippers could end up spending a lot of money on technology, federal officials could deter hijackings in the first place by considering the driver. For example, they should want and advocate safer areas for truckers to park.”

TSA and OOIDA working together
Spencer said OOIDA and the Transportation Security Administration are talking about providing information to allow drivers to become aware of potential terrorist activity and also allow them to respond to specific terrorist alerts related to trucking.

OOIDA presented a proposal to achieve that goal Sept. 8 to the TSA.

“We want to provide a way to communicate with truckers when there’s a truck-related threat, but also find a way for truckers to communicate with proper authorities when they’re on the road and encounter incidents that could be terrorist related,” Spencer said.

Another OOIDA goal is to improve driver training, qualification standards and help alleviate driver turnover.

“When there’s so much turnover, there’s a greater opportunity for people to get behind the wheel of a truck and do us great harm. Technology plays a role in security, but it’s only a partial role,” Spencer said.

Push for vehicle tracking devices
Some federal and state officials see a need for vehicle tracking devices only for hazardous materials transport — but others want tracking technology for every truck, with the ability to pinpoint the location of “off-route” vehicles.

Qualcomm to track untethered trailers

Green Bay, WI-based truckload carrier Schneider National announced recently it would install Qualcomm equipment to enable Schneider’s shipper customers to track where the trailer carrying their load is at all times and whether the trailer is loaded or unloaded.

According to Tom Nightingale, a Schneider spokesman, all 47,000 trailers in the company’s fleet will be equipped with the new Qualcomm devices. All the company’s tractors already used satellite equipment.

“Even our owner-operators are equipped with the satellite in-cab communications in the tractor, and just never had it in the trailer,” Nightingale said. “In the past, we could always track [a trailer] when it was attached to a driver, but we couldn’t track it when it was on a rail car, when it was in a drop yard or when it was in a customer drop lot.”

Nightingale said owner-operators make up 22 percent of the company’s fleet.

“Tracking vehicles may at first seem to have merit,” Spencer said. “But is such a system feasible or even possible given the number of trucks on roads in every city every day?

“Consider this: There are 800,000 hazmat shipments in America each day. If you track every truck that can carry a bomb or weapon, you may be looking at monitoring 8 to 10 million vehicles — and many thousands might be ‘off route’ for any number of legitimate reasons at any given time.”

Truck makers react
Gary Petty, president of the National Private Truck Council, and officials of International Truck and Engine Corp. recently discussed the effect of developing homeland security regulations on trucking.

NPTC is a national association representing the interests of corporate and business truck fleets.

“Look at all the incidents in recent weeks involving trucks,” Petty told reporters. “The last thing truckers want is to have their truck end up being used in a terrorist incident.”

International thinks truck makers, engine manufacturers and OEMs may include security systems as standard equipment at a time when federal officials are deciding whether to make their use mandatory.

About 70 percent of those responding to a monthly survey on International Truck and Engine Corp.’s Web site said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about cargo and vehicle security.

“It’s imperative that we as a truck manufacturer take the initiative to make sure our customers have the right tools and knowledge to meet new security standards,” Phil Christman, International’s vice president of product development, said. “Our goal is helping companies understand how new regulation and new technology will impact their businesses.”

What the feds have in mind
The Research and Special Programs Administration of DOT has announced new security rules estimated to cost companies $88.3 million in the first year of operation. These rules include background checks for job applicants, employee training and additional requirements for shipping papers.

The Transportation Security Administration is testing systems to help prevent high-risk hazardous cargo from being used in a terrorist attack. Some include real-time tracking of sensitive cargo, emergency warning systems, rapid identification of “out-of-route” vehicles approaching forbidden zones, and methods to slow down or shut down a vehicle remotely.

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden are directly involved in the shipping business.

U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner was asked what the impact would be if a bomb were to go off in one of these containers.

“It would be devastating,” he said. “If that should happen, the system will stop. It’s like commercial aviation after September 11. The system will stop. We’re not going to allow another container to offload in the United States if something like that happens.”

“We’re vulnerable at seaports and we’ve always believed that,” Spencer said. “Containers from all over the world are loaded by people we don’t know and unloaded onto trucks by people we don’t know and generally moved by drivers whose principal qualification is often that they’ll work hard for inadequate compensation. Once again, OOIDA believes security is better served when we focus on the driver — the first line of defense.”

In the meantime, drivers and all transportation workers may soon be required to carry a national Transportation Worker Identification Credential, known as TWIC. This proposed DOT “smart card” would be used in conjunction with a biometric reader, and may eventually replace the commercial driver’s license.

In addition, the U.S. Customs Service is proposing a regulation to require carriers to give a one-hour notice before entering the United States from Canada. Another proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would require foreign companies shipping food and beverages to the United States to register with the FDA and provide pre-notification of imports.

The technology ‘solution’
In a recent white paper, “Homeland Security: Implications for the Truck and School Bus Industry,” International says measures under way by the federal government will have the greatest effect on hazardous cargo, intermodal, transborder, food and agriculture and school bus operations.

Based on several weeks’ research, the white paper describes details of the Homeland Security Act, including government-mandated trials now under way to test the costs and feasibility of technologies such as telematics, radio frequency identification and other vehicle and cargo security tools.

“The next few months will be especially important for our customers, as regulatory decisions are made and transportation companies must respond accordingly,” International’s Vera Gavrilovich, the white paper’s author, said.

The study details a series of high-tech approaches currently under review by a consortium of companies, including International, in partnership with the Transportation Safety Administration. They include:

  • Driver, passenger and cargo verification systems, including biometric identification systems, coded or electronic vehicle entry, and automatic vehicle shutdown;
  • Vehicle cargo security technologies, such as “smart” seals, wireless linking via dedicated short-range radio frequency and optical cargo scanners;
  • Vehicle and cargo tracking capabilities, including radio frequency identification tags, container profiling software and automatic vehicle location systems; and
  • Emergency response systems, such as wireless and satellite driver communication tools, geo-fencing and remote vehicle disabling technologies.

What the technology does
Technology to secure vehicles and cargo include driver and passenger identification, vehicle and cargo tracking, cargo security and emergency response. Identification technologies include biometric systems such as fingerprint, hand, retinal and facial scans as well as electronic keys and keypads that enable the driver to start the vehicle once a code is entered.

Tracking technology includes radio-frequency identification tags, mobile scanners, container-profiling software, global positioning satellites and global locator systems. Radio frequency tags can be attached to containers or trailers and carry information on their contents as well as their location in the supply chain.

Mobile scanners that use gamma rays can gather information about the contents of a sealed container. Container-profiling software identifies shipments with suspicious characteristics and creates automated alerts.

Technologies for securing cargo include seals and wireless links. Electronic seals store information, and wireless links between a tractor and trailer ensure that the right tractor is hooked up with the right trailer.

Emergency-response technology alerts dispatch or local law enforcement if a vehicle is stolen or is heading into a forbidden area. Technologies such as geo-fencing put an electronic “fence” around sensitive areas and notify authorities if a vehicle comes into those areas.

In addition, authorities may soon be able to disable a vehicle remotely if the vehicle is equipped with engine-disabling technology. Panic buttons, located either on the driver or in the vehicle, allow drivers to call for help in case of an emergency.

The cost factor
According to Petty, “Government eventually will require continuous tracking of trucks and drivers as a condition of driving on the public roads.”

However, this brave new world will come at a price.

“Many may not end up in the trucking business,” Petty said.

Meanwhile, freight carriers and manufacturers are concerned new security rules would slow the movement of cargo and disrupt the supply chain, which relies on just-in-time deliveries, The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

The new rules are expected to take effect Oct. 1 and are aimed at boosting the defenses of trucks, trains, ships and planes. Under the rules, all transportation companies would be required to alert the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection about the contents and recipients of international cargo either before it is loaded at a foreign port or reaches the United States.

Customs officials said forcing shippers to make changes now could help prevent a repeat of the closure of U.S. borders following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to The Journal.

But some manufacturers, transportation companies, importers and exporters are worried the changes could cost more than the government estimated and cause more disruption to the country’s flow of commerce at the border than officials are anticipating.

“Costs are always higher than estimates,” OOIDA’s Spencer said. “That’s what always trips up government.”

Dick Larsen can be reached at