TSA's plan to foil vehicle ramming attacks relies on 'First Observers'

By Land Line staff | Friday, May 05, 2017

When it comes to thwarting a potential terror attack involving commercial vehicles, truck drivers play a meaningful role in the first line of defense, according to the federal agency tasked with overseeing security of the traveling public.

In a May 2017 bulletin issued by the Transportation Security Administration, the agency examines the risk of vehicle ramming attacks involving commercial vehicles. Truck drivers can play a role as an effective countermeasure to foiling such an attack – specifically through enrollment and participation in TSA’s First Observer training program.

According to the bulletin, a vehicle ramming attack is defined as “a form of attack in which a perpetrator deliberately aims a motor vehicle at a target with the intent to inflict fatal injuries or significant property damage by striking with concussive force.” According to the bulletin, terrorists have carried out 17 known vehicle ramming attacks worldwide between 2014 and 2017, resulting in 173 fatalities and 667 injuries.

“Would-be terrorists can be stopped by some of the least-intrusive and lowest-cost means available: meaningful security awareness,” the bulletin states. “Drivers and staff who both remain alert to potential threats and report suspicious activities to appropriate authorities are the most effective means of detecting acts of terrorism by commercial vehicle.”

In December 2016, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Berlin that involved a hijacked commercial truck being driven into a crowded Christmas market. Twelve people were killed and 56 were injured in the attack. In 2017 alone, attacks in Jerusalem, London, and Stockholm resulted in 15 deaths and 80 injuries.

First Observer Plus aims to encourage those on the front lines of a potential terror attack to be vigilant, and to report suspicious transportation-related activity to a dedicated hotline.  The hotline has been responsible for helping to thwart instances of terrorist activity in the U.S., including an attempted bus hijacking at Super Bowl XLV.

“Drivers have to be cognizant of their surroundings and report activity that appears suspicious or out of the norm,” said Doug Morris, OOIDA security operations director.

First Observer video training is available for free via the TSA’s website.

Among the indicators the bulletin encourages truckers to watch out for are unusual and unexplained modifications to commercial vehicles, including reinforcing the front bumper with metal plates; attempts by a commercial vehicle driver to unnecessarily or unlawfully infiltrate areas where crowds are gathered; and commercial vehicles operated erratically at unusual times or in unusual locations such as heavy pedestrian areas.

To report suspicious activity via the First Observer Plus hotline, call 866-615-5150.

Related story:
“First Observer Plus” Land Line Now’s Mark Reddig talked with TSA’s Ken Ward on SiriusXM Road Dog Channel 146. The interview aired in September 2016.

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