SPECIAL REPORT: Truck makers assess high-tech security options

| 8/29/2003

International Truck and Engine Corp. and other OEMs and manufacturers are looking at various big-rig security systems as federal officials ponder whether to make their use mandatory, according to Jeff Bannister, International's truck electronics director.

About 70 percent of those responding to a monthly survey on International's Web site said they were "very" or "somewhat" concerned about cargo and vehicle security.

Bannister, other International officials and Gary Petty, president of the National Private Truck Council, announced the survey results Aug. 27 during a conference call with reporters. NPTC is a national association representing the interests of corporate and business truck fleets.

"Fleet managers are facing new regulatory demands, labor shortages, cost pressures and finding qualified drivers when the pool of talented drivers is shrinking," Petty said. "There's also a critical need to focus on security for truck fleets.

"While our members don't sense trucks (are) the choice for terror worldwide, look at all the incidents in recent weeks involving trucks … The last thing truckers want is to have their truck end up being used in a terrorist incident."

Petty said prevention results from using technology to collect information, then using the information in an efficient manner.

International developing telematics

Bannister says International is developing a telematics system that will send information from a truck to fleet maintenance or operations headquarters. The system for Class 6-8 trucks and buses will initially be optional, but Bannister said he hoped the technology would become a standard feature on new trucks over the next 10 years.

"(Telematics) tells us if a truck is in trouble, where it is, and gives us the ability to stop it," Bannister said.

Phil Christman, International's vice president of product development, said there was little demand on truck manufacturers a year ago to provide security options.

However, "We now face a new range of security challenges that will bring about cost pressures," Christman said. "OEMs can play a role by providing security. Both OEMs and truck manufacturers need to adapt these new systems with an eye toward cost effectiveness."

The federal factor

In a recent white paper titled "Homeland Security: Implications for the Truck and School Bus Industry," International says measures in place or considered by the federal government will have the greatest effect on hazardous cargo, intermodal, transborder, food and agriculture, and school bus operations.

For example, the Research and Special Programs Administration of DOT has announced new security rules estimated to cost companies $88.3 million in the first year of operation. These rules include background checks for job applicants, employee training and additional requirements for shipping papers.

The Transportation Safety Administration is testing the feasibility of systems to help prevent high-risk hazardous cargo from being used in a terrorist attack. Some of the tested technologies include real-time tracking of sensitive cargo, emergency warning systems, rapid identification of "out-of-route" vehicles approaching forbidden zones and methods to slow down or shut down a vehicle remotely.

The DOT is also developing a program affecting all transportation workers that involves a national Transportation Worker Identification Credential, known as TWIC. This proposed "smart card" would be used in conjunction with a biometric reader, and may eventually replace the commercial driver's license.

In addition, the U.S. Customs Service is proposing a regulation to require carriers to give a one-hour notice before entering the United States from Canada. Another proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would require foreign companies shipping food and beverages to the United States to register with the FDA and provide pre-notification of imports.

Technology Solutions

Technology to secure vehicles and cargo include driver and passenger identification, vehicle and cargo tracking, cargo security and emergency response. Identification technologies include biometric systems such as fingerprint, hand, retinal and facial scans as well as electronic keys and keypads that enable the driver to start the vehicle once a code is entered.

Tracking technology includes radio-frequency identification tags, mobile scanners, container-profiling software, global positioning satellites and global locator systems. Radio frequency tags can be attached to containers or trailers and carry information on their contents as well as their location in the supply chain.

Mobile scanners that use gamma rays can gather information about the contents of a sealed container. Container-profiling software identifies shipments with suspicious characteristics and creates automated alerts.

Technologies for securing cargo include seals and wireless links. Electronic seals store information and wireless links between a tractor and trailer ensure that the right tractor is hooked up with the right trailer.

Emergency-response technology alerts dispatch or local law enforcement if a vehicle is stolen or is heading into a forbidden area. Technologies such as geo-fencing put an electronic "fence" around sensitive areas and notify authorities if a vehicle comes into those areas.

In addition, authorities may soon be able to disable a vehicle remotely if the vehicle is equipped with engine-disabling technology. Panic buttons, located either on the driver or in the vehicle, enable drivers to call for help in case of an emergency.

"Government eventually will require continuous tracking of trucks and drivers as a condition of driving on the public roads," Petty said.

However, this brave new world will come at a price.

"Many may not end up in the trucking business," Petty said.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@landlinemag.com.