By Charlie Morasch
Earlier this year, federal law enforcement agencies needed truckers’ help in locating a fugitive.
U.S. Marshals had begun a manhunt for Robert Ellsworth Williams, 60, who skipped court to face allegations that he raped a female under the age of 18. Marshals gave information about Williams to OOIDA, which was posted on the Association’s Web site at ooida.com.
“Within five to 10 minutes of the posting, authorities were getting calls – good pertinent leads,” said Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of security operations. Morris said those calls were from truck drivers.
The rapid response by OOIDA members encouraged the Association’s leaders, and for good reason.
This spring, OOIDA launched TRACER, the Transportation Alert Communications and Emergency Response program. The program is a two-way communication system that both sends alerts to members and coordinates information received from trucking members.
“There is a real need for a program like this,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs. “Most other existing and previous initiatives are or were basically just one-way communication where drivers must first recognize then report suspicious persons or activities. We felt like the most effective way to utilize the eyes and ears of drivers is to provide specific information about who or what to look for.”
TRACER circulates info through voluntary text messages, its Web site at www.tracersystem.us and an e-mail system designed to alert OOIDA members. Members can select whether to receive alerts via text messaging or by e-mail. OOIDA members can sign up for the program online or by phone.
Besides up-to-the-minute reports on stolen cargo and missing persons, TRACER uses its Web site, voice message system and text messages to provide reports about highway closures, alerts from the Department of Homeland Security, food safety recalls, pandemic outbreaks, Amber Alerts, significant criminal “be on the lookout,” or BOLO, alerts and more.
As of mid-March, about 4,000 OOIDA members had signed up, encouraging Association leadership.
“It’s extremely encouraging to have that many members sign up before the system is even activated, and prior to any real marketing of the program,” said Craig. “That’s a testament to the unselfish willingness of truckers to actively and earnestly step up whenever their assistance is needed.”
Truckers may call the TRACER hotline – 866-950-2291 – to get the latest advisory or if they have information to report about stolen cargo or missing persons, etc.
“Of course, the technology we have available makes it possible to have a very efficient system,” said Craig, “but the effectiveness of this system lies in the vast numbers of OOIDA members who are out there on the road 24/7.”
Recent landlinemag.com polls showed that nearly three-fourths of respondents keep a laptop in their truck, and 40 percent of respondents use the text message feature on their cell phones.
OOIDA wants TRACER to tap into that huge, moving, watching segment of working Americans who use cell phones, multifunctional devices like smartphones and laptops. Those drivers could get information on a stolen load in less than an hour.
“The time is right for it because all the communication technology is there. That’s what makes all of this possible,” Craig said. “Not only is it here, but truckers are dialed in to this connectivity – in fact, they are skilled at it.”
At press time, fugitive Williams still hadn’t been nabbed – but it isn’t because truckers aren’t on the lookout.
Thousands of experienced truckers now know the one-time over-the-road driver and mechanic’s face. They know the gray-haired Williams has a tattooed left forearm and left hand, and sometimes goes by the names “Sparky” or “Terry Mayer.”
TRACER officials know law enforcement agencies are a step closer than they once were.
“There are more truckers out there than there are police officers on the highways,” said Morris. LL