SPECIAL REPORT: TSA asks truckers to keep watch as political conventions - and potential terrorist threats - approach

| 7/20/2004

Officials of the Transportation Security Administration have asked OOIDA to alert truckers to be extra watchful for possible terrorist activity during the next few months.

Several administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft, have warned that terrorists might attack sometime before the November election in an attempt to disrupt the democratic process. Some reports have pointed to the Democratic and Republican conventions, or the election itself, as possible targets.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said truckers should be "especially vigilant and aware of suspicious behavior."

Drivers should be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary - things that in a trucker's experience look out of place or out of the routine - such as people taking pictures of shipping and receiving facilities or ports.

"Be especially diligent in terms of securing equipment, making certain that equipment is not stolen or easy to steal," Spencer said. "And be aware of when equipment does come up missing, i.e. tanker trailers and things like that."

Similar problems have already fueled concern among federal officials. Earlier this year, a Fruehauf fuel-oil tank trailer disappeared from a South Jersey truck terminal. The trailer was not reported missing until several days after it had apparently been taken. In addition, roughly 10,000 gallons of potentially explosive chemicals were stolen, also in New Jersey and at about the same time.

Authorities say the New Jersey situation and others like it are potentially serious because terrorists can turn such tanks into bombs, similar to ones used in bombings in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Truckers should also take care to provide for their own personal security, especially those who are hauling "cargo that could be attractive" to potential truck hijackers.

First up at bat
The first of the major election season events, The Democratic National Convention, begins next week on Monday, July 26, in Boston.

Security plans for the event will significantly disrupt life for truckers and others on the highways around Boston. A spokesman for convention organizers said truckers should avoid the area if possible.

"Some can't, but you want to stay out of there," the spokesman told Land Line. "It's going to be heavy delays, and obviously it's going to get worse in the afternoon and the evening when the closures become more stringent because of the convention.

"If you really want to avoid the traffic, you'd want to stay out of the area in general, and just bypass Boston on 95 or 495."

Trucks a particular target
Trucks will be among the most scrutinized vehicles to approach the Boston convention.

In prepared remarks delivered July 14, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge said security officials would conduct "24/7 surveillance of key convention facilities." That could include the use of "portable X-ray equipment to examine packages, as well as commercial vehicles and delivery trucks, entering these areas."

Officials from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection will man the X-ray equipment, which will be used on such trucks as delivery vehicles and food service providers at the convention site. Bomb-sniffing dogs will also be used.

Convention to close highways
An even greater number of truckers could have their lives disrupted by highway closings throughout the area that week.

For example, a six-mile section of Interstate 93 through the city will be closed every day during the convention from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. The area includes the section of the highway that runs near the Fleet Center, where the convention is taking place.

On the north, traffic will be diverted off I-93 at Exit 32, where it intersects Route 60. On the south side of the area, traffic will be diverted off the interstate at Exit 20, where it intersects the Mass Pike, I-90.

On an even larger section of the highway - running from Exit 37C on the north to the intersection with Route 1 on the south - I-93 will be down to two lanes in each direction 24 hours a day during the event. The rest of the highway will be used for emergency vehicles and shuttle buses.

Other major roads that will be closed during the afternoon and evening hours are:

  • Route 1 and the Tobin Bridge inbound to Boston;
  • The Sumner Tunnel;
  • The Leverett Connector; and
  • Portions of Storrow Drive and Memorial Drive.

Also, some lanes will be restricted on the Mass Turnpike eastbound from Allston to East Boston, according to information on the convention Web site.

Truckers with questions about other traffic restrictions can go to the convention Web site, www.Boston04.com, and click on the "Traffic and MBTA Information" link on the right side of the page. Those already in the Boston area can call a hotline set up at the mayor's office at (617) 635-2004.

Federal, state and local officials are coordinating security for both the Democratic convention, which runs through July 29, and the Republican Convention, which is scheduled for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 in New York City.

- by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.