Since Sept. 11, 2001, the trucking industry has assumed an increasingly critical role in both government and business security strategies to confront the threat of a terrorist strike.
Recognizing that practically every product that is delivered in this country comes by truck, whether to a mammoth manufacturing plant or to a mom-and-pop store on Main Street USA, trucking firms have worked closely with agencies of the federal government to develop programs and systems to protect the transporting of goods, services and people.
Essentially, thousands of professional drivers have become ground soldiers, riding streets and highways to report potential terrorist activity and aid in the prevention of catastrophic terrorist attacks.
One of the earliest security strategies was the formation in November 2001 of the Transportation Security Administration within the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. The administration was later transferred to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security.
Though originally focused on air travel, TSA almost immediately moved to address the handling and hauling of hazardous cargo by issuing a list of common-sense points that could improve security measures for hazardous materials carriers. Those points included:
-Complete background checks for new hires that include investigation of criminal records, military service, employment gaps and references;
-Photo or other unique-identifier ID system for all employees;
-Secured terminals with adequate fences, lighting, locked hazardous materials storage and entry/exit controls;
-Control of vehicle keys;
-Driver awareness of suspicious activities;
-Mobile communication systems;
-Evaluation of tracking, monitoring and remote locking systems;
-Routine use of vehicle anti-theft systems and cargo locks and seals;
-Security training for all personnel;
-Sharing information with others in the industry; and
-Ability to step up security measures in response to new terrorist activities or alerts.
PHASE THREE: FINGERPRINTING
During the first phase, TSA conducted name-based security threat assessments on all 2.7 million hazardous materials drivers to determine whether any presented a potential terrorist threat.
On Jan. 31, 2005, the TSA began the second phase of the Hazardous Materials Threat Assessment Program with the fingerprinting of commercial truck drivers applying to obtain a hazardous materials endorsement on their state-issued commercial drivers license.
Phase two augments this effort by adding an FBI fingerprint-based criminal history records check and immigration status check.
The third and final phase of implementation begins May 31, 2005, when drivers who currently hold a hazardous materials endorsement and wish to renew or transfer the endorsement must undergo the fingerprint-based background check.
Announcing the new requirements, Rear Adm. David M. Stone, USN (Ret.), assistant secretary of Homeland Security for TSA, said, "By partnering with states to ensure hazardous materials drivers have undergone a security threat assessment, we add another layer of security in the transport of hazardous materials."
The TSA's scrutiny of the trucking industry may be intensified if the 2006 federal fiscal budget is approved. President Bush plans to shift from the TSA much of the responsibility for security at airports to other departments, leaving TSA with oversight of security of freight, rail, truck and maritime transportation.
HAZARDOUS MATERIALS CLASSIFICATIONS
Risk mangers now have to do background checks on the drivers of their own trucking fleets, or contractors or rentals if their employer's product is identified as a hazardous material.
Further, the requirements for labeling and marking transported hazardous materials are considerably complicated, almost bewildering. The International Maritime Organization, which is a branch of the United Nations, has sorted hazardous materials into nine classifications. These include explosives, gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids, oxidizers and organic peroxides, toxic materials and infectious substances, radioactive materials, corrosives and miscellaneous dangerous goods.
Each class of hazardous materials has its own color-coded diamond-shaped sign, and there are several subgroups within most classes.
Shippers are required to mark the package with the kind of hazardous material in it, and trucks have to carry similar markings on the outside of the truck. Risk managers shipping hazardous materials must balance the need for safety with the costs that result from regulations, exemptions and approvals.
Currently, there is some discussion that the marking system should be abandoned on trucks and freight cars, as it makes it too easy for terrorists to identify and use dangerous materials.
Ron Thornton, president of the Inland Marine Insurance Association, said the anti-terrorism programs involving trucking firms have an indirect, positive influence on insurance rates.
"The new vetting requirements for hazardous materials drivers will help companies to not hire persons who have a previous history of involvement in crime, especially cargo-related activity," he says. "Since there is an underlying belief that a lot of cargo thefts are inside jobs, by being more selective in hiring drivers, the incidence of cargo theft will be lower, which will help risk managers to reduce their firms' insurance costs for theft coverage."
Following Sept. 11, the TSA expanded Highway Watch, a program founded in 1998 by the American Trucking Associations to alert authorities to accidents on the nation's highways and roads.
Today, Highway Watch is a voluntary, national and state safety project that trains professional truck drivers to be aware of and report unusual incidents that may prove to be terrorist-related. Highway Watch is administered by the ATA through an agreement with the Dept. of Homeland Security.
The ATA coordinates the program's activities involving the trucking industry, state and federal departments of transportation and state policing units. Participating in Highway Watch are commercial and public truck and bus drivers, and other highway sector professionals. They receive special training to recognize potential safety and security threats and how to avoid becoming a target of terrorists and to spot a terrorist threat to others. One of the main concentrations of the Highway Watch program is to prevent terrorists from using large vehicles or hazardous cargoes as weapons.
Each state trucking association operates its own Highway Watch program, working with state law enforcement and government agencies. While each participating state association has its own set of qualifying standards, the associations typically stipulate that a volunteer be a truck driver who: operates regularly in the state, has an excellent safety record, is willing to undergo a background check, has a cellular phone to use for dialing a toll-free Highway Watch number, is willing to attend a comprehensive training session, and has a desire to work with others to improve highway safety.
NEW MANDATES ADOPTED
The industry, says Thornton, is cooperating with the new mandates on a volunteer basis while balancing "attentiveness to regulations with the pragmatic importance of business practices."
In addition to being on the alert for matters relating to homeland security, the drivers in Watch, whether on the road or at fuel stations and rest areas, are trained to report to proper authorities such activity as trucks hauling hazardous waste without the proper marking or permits, unusual chatter on CBs, phony traffic accidents, stranded vehicles or accidents, unsafe road conditions and other dangerous situations.
It was a trucker who spotted the car in a rest stop that led to the arrest of the sniper who killed 10 people in Maryland and Virginia in October 2002.
The ATA received a $41 million grant for 2005 to fund Highway Watch from the Department of Homeland Security. Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO, said that with the country's dependence on transportation, having a program that coordinates the efforts of the entire transportation sector "keeps our highways safe and secure and trucks rolling, otherwise, America stops."
RONALD GIFT MULLINS, a former editor and writer for the Journal of Commerce, contributes occasionally to Risk & Insurance®.
May 1, 2005
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