By Reed Black
You’re southbound on U.S. Highway 75 in Kansas and as the sparkling waters of the John Redmond Reservoir come up on the right, you notice a man who’s pulled his car off on the left shoulder.
You just catch a glimpse. But it appears he has a long-lens camera and it’s trained on the towering dome of the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant off to the east.
Do you think anything about it?
Jeff Beatty wants you to do more than just think about it. He’d like you to note the time, the color, make and model of the car, the tag number and what the driver looks like.
Then he’d like you to phone First Observer.
“We want to take advantage of the fact that truckers know what looks right and what just doesn’t look right,” said Beatty. “We want truckers because they have knowledge of the highway system.”
If you haven’t heard of First Observer, it’s because it’s new. Created under the Department of Homeland Security, it’s funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Its overseer is the Transportation Security Administration.
First Observer is designed to be a national anti-terrorism awareness network made up mainly of truckers. Truckers who sign up receive an info-crammed training session (by video, online, or by a First Observer trainer) in what to look for while working daily in a job that takes them in and out of every conceivable corner of the nation’s infrastructure.
If it “doesn’t look right” – also known as a “DLR” – truckers are trained to observe a situation and decide if it’s one that needs checking out. If the DLR scene needs an expert evaluation, First Observers phone the call center at 888-217-5902. The center is manned 365/24/7. Experts are on hand to take the report to the next level.
“In the training, we will show them specifically what to be alert for,” says Beatty. “You know, what does terrorist casing activity look like? What does terrorist rehearsal activity look like?”
If there’s imminent danger, truckers need to call 9-1-1. First Observer is a backup for 9-1-1 and not a replacement.
The program is run by HMS Co., an Alexandria, VA, firm. Total Security Services International Inc. – a company founded by Beatty and where he is a senior advisor – is a subcontractor for First Observer, along with OOIDA, the Teamsters and Patton Boggs LLC. OOIDA will work with other stakeholders in the program. The Association’s primary duties are outreach, recruitment and training. One of Beatty’s jobs? He’s a master trainer.
Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of security operations, was one of the first to go through First Observer training. Morris and others at OOIDA were involved in developing training sessions and the “train the trainer” sessions.
“It’s excellent training and makes sense for our members to get involved in this,” said Morris.
The training sessions make no bones about what First Observer is: It’s intended to combine anti-terrorist expertise with a trucker’s unique knowledge of the highway system to stop terrorist attacks from happening. That means international extremists, sympathizers, liberation movements, domestic terrorists, environmental terrorists and narco-terrorists.
In a training session, you may hear that when Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh went to rent a Ryder truck, he was asked, “What size truck do you want?”
McVeigh reportedly responded that he wanted “something big enough to carry 5,000 pounds.” In retrospect, it was a very odd response for someone who was ostensibly doing a little household moving – and presumably had not weighed the couch, TV and mattress. He did, however, know the fertilizer and other ingredients of his massive bomb weighed 5,000 pounds.
What if someone at the truck rental agency had picked up on the oddity of his response? What if someone had noticed McVeigh and Nichols unloading fertilizer into a storage shed? Farmers use fertilizer and they don’t keep it off-site in a storage shed, Beatty points out to trainees.
It’s the kind of abnormality that Beatty wants truckers to be on the lookout for.
“We want to change their default position from, you know, maybe before Sept. 11 or before Oklahoma City – if they’d see something that was a little out of the ordinary, they might not have called it in. Well now, they have a place where they can call in suspicious activity. Things like, “We will drive for your trucking company cheap, as long as you let us drive hazmat loads.”
We have an important window of opportunity, says Beatty.
“It allows us to try to get out ahead of the next terrorist attack. We know they’re coming. We have to take advantage of this time, right now, and get as many truckers trained as we can so we can prevent these incidents,” he said.
Beatty’s no stranger to terrorism. His resume includes military service in Delta Force and counter-terrorism strike force experience with both the CIA and FBI.
“I know what works against terrorists,” he said. And Beatty believes this program will work. LL
Managing Editor Sandi Soendker also contributed to this report.