Bastille Day attack prompts renewed call for 'First Observers' in U.S.

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Friday, July 15, 2016

Following a deadly terror attack involving a panel truck in the coastal city of Nice, France, which left at least 84 people dead, transportation security officials in the U.S. held a conference call Friday to discuss transportation security.

Doug Morris, OOIDA safety and security operations director and also the chair of the Transportation Security Administration’s Highway and Motor Carrier Coordinating Council, was one of the conference call participants.

He said the group discussed the latest non-classified security briefings about the July 14 attack, as well as ways to improve surface transportation security in the United States.

One of the ways Morris said truckers can help is by participating in the TSA’s First Observer program. First Observer is a voluntary program that provides transportation professionals with training on effectively observing, assessing and reporting suspicious individuals, vehicles, packages and objects. OOIDA is a subcontractor for the program.

“(TSA) is counting on professionals in the trucking industry or the bus industry who know their industry, know what is suspicious, and know to report those types of things,” Morris said.

Since its inception seven years ago, Morris said the training program and the hotline have been responsible for helping to thwart at least 47 instances of terrorist activity, including an attempted bus hijacking at Super Bowl XLV. 

“If you see something that doesn’t look right, call someone,” he said. “If it’s an emergency situation, call 911. If it’s not, then call the TSA hotline.”

Authorities have identified Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old man of Franco-Tunisian origin, as the attacker. He was killed by police after driving his panel truck into a large crowd. They were watching a fireworks display that marked the end of the national French holiday similar to America’s Independence Day, celebrating the storming of an infamous prison during the French Revolution.

According to a report from the BBC, Bouhlel rented the truck from a rental company in a nearby town on July 11, and was supposed to have returned it on July 13. Police have said the suspect was in possession of an automatic pistol, bullets, a fake automatic pistol and two replica assault rifles, as well as an empty grenade.

“As the onion peels back on this, we’ll see that there were a lot of clues that could have been called in and could have probably prevented this,” Morris said. “So what TSA is saying is, if you see something out there … If there’s a situation that’s suspicious and dealing with surface transportation, call the TSA hotline.”

For more information about First Observer, click here. To report suspicious activity via the First Observer hotline, call 866-615-5150.

Land Line Now Senior Correspondent Terry Scruton contributed to this report.

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