Schumer again warns of terrorism via trucks

| 6/30/2003

The recent arrest of an Ohio truckdriver for conspiring with al Qaeda to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge prompted U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer to again warn that big rigs pose a major terrorist threat unless certain actions take place – particularly around the state capital.

Schumer said Albany, like other large cities, is especially vulnerable because its main New York Thruway exits see a tremendous amount of truck traffic. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, almost 10,000 trucks use exits 23, 24 and 25 each day, meaning more than 3.5 million trucks travel through the Albany area each year. More than 100,000 of these trucks carry loads of toxic chemicals or explosive fuel that are ideal terrorist weapons, he added.

Schumer said, “If terrorists wanted to do something horrible to us, chances are they could take a truck with dangerous materials in it, drive it to a major landmark, ignite the cargo right there, and cause unspeakable damage …We need to invest resources and energy in securing our trucks that we have directed towards protecting our airways, railways and harbors. The danger is too great to do nothing."

A Schumer press release said about 50,000 trips are made each day in the United States by gasoline tankers, “many of which hold as much fuel as a Boeing 757.” The trips often end with a late-night delivery to a “deserted” gas station, while chemicals present an even greater risk, particularly those like chlorine or cyanide, which can form clouds of deadly fumes, the release said.

"We can spend billions securing our airports, providing small pox vaccines to everyone and increasing guards at the northern border, but if we do not secure our truck fleet, this country will still be at grave risk from a terrorist attack," Schumer said. "A terrorist with a fuel tanker driving up to a building in New York could do unspeakable damage. We need to enact common-sense steps to protect ourselves, our city, and our country."

Schumer’s truck plan

Schumer said the Transportation Security Administration needed to do more in addition to performing background checks on hazmat drivers to bolster truck security. Among his suggestions:

  • The TSA should start mandating GPS in all trucks in order to allow authorities to find a truck quickly if intelligence shows a risk exists. GPS systems cost only $75 to $100 per truck and would provide a benefit that would greatly outweigh this small cost, Schumer said.
  • The TSA should require hazmat shippers to register trucking plans with the agency. The plans would be similar to flight plans that airplanes need to file. Because all trucks will have GPS under Schumer's plan, it would be easy to ensure that shipments followed the plans they filed. If it turned out that a truck carrying hazmat veered off the prescribed course, authorities could easily find the truck and ensure nothing suspicious was happening. "If a terrorist planned an attack using a truck carrying dangerous chemicals or fuel, authorities would quickly be able to tell that the shipment was off course, pinpoint the location of the truck, and stop the attack," Schumer wrote in a letter to Adm. James Loy, head of the TSA
  • Schumer also wants TSA to increase research into new technologies that could bolster the safety of the nation's truck fleet. Such technologies would include panic buttons in case a truck is hijacked, and automatic engine kill switches that could be triggered remotely if a truck were stolen or veered off its intended delivery route. Such technology is already in place in Brazil and has resulted in the recovery of $500 million worth of stolen freight, the senator noted. "If Brazil can protect its trucks, I am sure the United States can do the same. Developing new technologies will ensure that our truck fleets are safe and one more weapon will be taken out of the terrorists arsenal," Schumer said.