ASSE: Homeland Security for Commercial Vehicles

Scary news for transportation security, says expert Carmen Daecher; many commerical vehicle companies have taken few steps to protect themselves and their cargo from security threats.

In 2004, a survey of commercial truck and bus companies found that within the industry, there is not a uniform perception of threat. In fact, says Daecher, president of Daecher Consulting Group Inc., the companies hold different perceptions of threat and of what constitutes a threat and of how vulnerable they are to threat.

"The good news is, they are starting to address security-related issues," he told an audience at the 2005 annul conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers, held this week in New Orleans.

Key threats to security listed by the companies include risk management techniques, hiring practices, current security procedures at truck and bus driving training schools and security procedures and technology. Perceived threats come from the possibility of stolen vehicles being used as instruments of terror, the use of vehicles to transport or disseminate weapons of mass destruction, hijacking, theft, harm to employees, vandalism, organized crime and disruption of service.

When the companies were asked what they were doing in terms of managing these real and perceived risks, Daecher says the response was, well, underwhelming.

"We asked, 'What are you doing about it?' Twenty-six percent said they were doing nothing. Thank you for your honesty," said Daecher.

The rest said they were performing security or company audits, reviewing recommendations from the American Chemical Council, reviewing information from the National Truck Carriers and examining terminal security. When asked if they were revising hiring practices, the majority said "no."

Sixty-four percent already perform background checks on drivers, added Daecher, and many felt that was enough.

Rather than introducing new technology such as global tracking systems, closed caption camerasaccess control systems, driver biometric identification systems or similar high-tech solutions, many companies turned to administrative and management solutions to control security risks. "It's as if they were saying, 'We're not doing anything really, really new,'" he added.

As a result of the survey, the industry came up with a set of action items it hopes will help improve security in the trucking industry. The first step is to disseminate a list of trucking industry threat-specific, low cost/no cost security measures and a guide to application. The second is to conduct a quantitative review of potential terrorist threats, risks and consequences, along with mitigation options by industry segments. Also suggested: develop and disperse a security self-assessment tool; develop a technology evaluation clearning house; develop a centralized cargo theft reporting system and explore mandating the reporting of theft; and implement a federal drivers' license or identification card.

According to Daecher, the industry still has a long way to go before its security measures are top shelf. "The bottom line," says Daecher, "is that larger companies are enhancing management systems and beginning to embrace technology," while many if not most smaller companies are conducting business as usual and praying they are never the target of a terrorist act or that their vehicles are never used as a weapon of mass destruction.

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