Calling a halt

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In June 16, two team drivers for a Tennessee carrier locked the doors of their truck at an Indiana truck stop and went inside to eat. Within minutes, thieves seized the tractor and 16,000 Motorola cell phones loaded in the trailer. Before it left the truck stop, the truck’s global positioning system was disabled. The truck, the thieves and the cargo effectively vanished. The FBI eventually recovered the truck – minus its $3.2 million load.

This scenario has played out thousands of times over the years. Thieves easily disabled a system that many fleets rely on as their first line of defense against would-be thieves. But after Sept. 11, it’s a situation that truly worries security experts.

Nearly a year after the industry realized that terrorists could turn trucks into weapons of mass destruction, carriers have adopted awareness programs for drivers, added security guards and razor wire to terminals, and monitored satellite-tracking systems more vigilantly.

But many carriers want better security on the frontlines – within the truck itself. For many carriers, cargo theft wasn’t a big enough worry to justify sophisticated security devices. Now, all carriers must consider their equipment as potential targets, regardless of what or where they haul.

And even for those carriers that have long been concerned about security, the priorities have changed. Before Sept. 11, the goal was to ensure that a truck and its load made the trip safely from point A to point B. Today, it may become more important at times to ensure that the truck and its cargo don’t move at all. Devices that that can completely disable the truck exist, but carriers haven’t reached a consensus on what makes the most sense.

Higher stakes
“We’ve seen a major increase in security interest from LTL carriers, truckload carriers, private carriers, hazardous material and tanker fleets,” says security expert John Albrecht, vice president of Transport Security in Waconia, Minn. “Before Sept. 11, a lot of them weren’t really concerned. But now, if you are a publicly traded company, and your piece of equipment is stolen and used in a terrorist act…”

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Albrecht doesn’t need to finish the sentence. Everyone can imagine the consequences. It’s not just carriers that are worried. Shippers are worried about their products being used as weapons of mass destruction. Food companies, for instance, worry about their product being stolen or contaminated. Chemical companies don’t want their products dumped into a water supply. And no carrier – for-hire or private – is eager to see its trailers featured in national news stories about terrorism. If there is any good that can come out of Sept. 11 for the trucking industry, Albrecht says, it’s that the situation is forcing many carriers to implement the security that was always needed.

As a major hazmat carrier, Dana/Suttles has been on the frontlines of security since Sept. 11. “It now takes more time to go to a plant to pick up a load,” says James Suttles, president of Dana/Suttles, a 750-truck fleet based in Demopolis, Ala. “We’re following our satellite tracking system a good bit better.” In addition to satellite tracking, the carrier keeps close tabs on video monitoring systems at terminals, and its drivers now wear photo ID badges.

Still, Suttles would like to add a panic button to his system that would allow a driver to warn his company and authorities if the rig is hijacked, and an alarm system that would alert the fleet if the truck’s tracking system is disconnected. “We’ve had a couple of trucks stolen this year,” Suttles says. “The thieves will unplug the satellite tracking.”

The three tractors Suttles lost were stolen in Texas, and he suspects the vehicles are in Mexico now. Fortunately, the company didn’t lose any loads. But shippers and publicly traded carriers are particularly sensitive to such thefts, because “they don’t want CNN helicopters flying over saying this is their load,” Suttles says.

Before Sept. 11, dropping an empty trailer was of little security concern to most carriers. Today, an empty trailer may be a bigger worry for homeland security than a full one. Kingpin locks and other devices can help when dropping is unavoidable.

How much is enough?
Suttles isn’t alone in calling for better security devices. Truck and aftermarket producers say their clients are calling about security issues every day, and they are scrambling to meet demand. “Customers are talking about it more and more, and there’s a host of government studies going,” says Frank Bio, director of marketing for Volvo Trucks North America.

There are many steps carriers potentially could take to prevent the use of their equipment in a terrorist act. The question is: How much is enough?

It’s a question that’s baffling many fleets, says Drew Robertson, director of the Freight Transportation Security Consortium. FTSC is working with the government and OEMs to come up with a standard for what comprises a secure truck (see “Defining truck security,” page 28).
But for now, Robertson’s working definition includes a lot of technology.

“On the trailer, GPS location, door sensors, remote locks for the door, remote locks on the spring brake and rear radar,” Robertson says. “On the tractor: panic buttons, kill switches, remote locking, a communications package, driver authentication.”

The problem, Robertson says, is motor carriers don’t have the money to add such devices, even if they are commercially available and technologically feasible. “Fleets haven’t spec’ed a lot in security and safety equipment,” he says. “They don’t even spec airbags on the tractor.” Carriers don’t have much extra money to spend on security – especially when there’s little certain payback. “Insurance companies haven’t given truckers much incentive to add that stuff,” Robertson notes.

Prevention is key
R&R Trucking relies on panic buttons, decoy trucks and team drivers to keep dangerous loads rolling in the right direction, but President Daryl Deel is still looking for other tools to further tighten security. The Duenweg, Mo.-based carrier hauls military munitions, hazardous waste and nuclear fuel. Although some of the features Deel would like are “high tech,” others are mechanical changes.

To better secure his vans, for example, Deel envisions a mechanism that can lock trailer doors from the inside with an internal bolt. “Something that can be activated by the driver,” he says. “We’ve got a lock on trailers right now, but that can be cut off. We’re also looking at some way to secure the hinges, either through spot welding or some other device.”

The goal is to delay a robbery long enough to alert authorities and get them to the scene, Deel says. “If the tractor is disabled, [a thief] will not be able to put another tractor under it and drive away. And he can’t get into the trailer. The only thing he’s left is with a cutting torch to get into the trailer. That takes time.”

Due to the nature of R&R Trucking’s freight, Deel is especially concerned about cargo theft. In the post-Sept. 11 world, however, even carriers with low-risk freight are worried. Many carriers are just concerned that their trucks aren’t used as weapons of mass destruction. For them, simple devices like trailer locks may be sufficient to ensure that a would-be terrorist moves on to another target.

The best security solutions combine low-tech and high-tech approaches to stop a thief or track the unit if it’s stolen, says Jim Bechtold, Kenworth’s chief engineer. “But it’s better to stop somebody before they steal a truck, as opposed to once they’re in it trying to get them stopped,” he points out. That’s why Kenworth, which is exploring high-tech features like a fingerprint authentication device and a 360-degree video camera system, is also updating its latch hardware and offering a new set on some of its tractors.

Another example of a low-tech approach to prevention is the Volvo VN, notes Bio. The truck doesn’t feature exterior grip handles. Instead, they are mounted inside the door, meaning that thieves trying to highjack a slow moving truck would have trouble hanging on.

“Carriers need to make sure their tractor isn’t stolen,” Albrecht says. “You have to make sure they can’t hotwire it and drive it away. It’s also important they have a good lock on the back of the trailer, so a thief can’t just open the doors. If a driver has to drop, make sure they have a good kingpin lock.”

Business is brisk for Bob Morisset, president and CEO of Canadian security firm Magtec. The company sells systems designed to prevent hotwiring, a leading technique used in truck theft. The systems, which sell for about $550, use special keys that are hard to duplicate and act as part of the truck’s starting circuit. Without the key, the truck can’t move.

“We’re in the prevention business,” Morisset says. “We want to stop it. If you stop it, you don’t have to track it. Truck thieves are savvy enough to disable a tracking system before the crime is detected.

Kenworth’s T800 High-Tech truck features a surround camera system, giving drivers a 360-degree view of potential threats.

Security from a distance
Suppliers of asset-tracking systems understand all too well Morisset’s point; the June incident involving the $3.2 million load of Motorola phones is just one example of the problem. That’s why companies who make those systems are looking for ways to beef them up. The three largest suppliers of asset-tracking for long-haul trucking – Qualcomm, PeopleNet Communications and Aether Systems – are considering enhancements that will notify carriers when a system is tampered with.

“Thieves’ ability to disable these things have become a more important issue with users,” says Brian McLaughlin, director of marketing for PeopleNet. “We’re considering a backup system if the primary system becomes disabled.”

PeopleNet held an advisory meeting on homeland security with tanker truck clients in June. Carriers want emergency communication devices for the driver and help for dispatchers in recognizing emergency events. The company is developing a panic button to augment its current emergency alarm and is beefing up its software so fleets can program in security exceptions, says Brian McLaughlin, director of marketing. “With our system you can be notified, for example, when a vehicle decelerates for ‘X’ miles per hour over ‘X’ miles,” he says.

Qualcomm has three new security features aimed at fighting terrorism – driver authentication, a wireless panic button and tamper detection – and took its technology truck to Capitol Hill in June to show off them off. Those features are highly sought by carriers, says Marc Sands, vice president and division counsel for Qualcomm. “We’re looking to see how we can add some things to allow it to be used more as a security product,” he says.

Some of the enhancements Qualcomm is looking at are already in use in other markets and some are totally new to the system. In Brazil, the company’s asset tracking system is marketed primarily as a security system.

McLaughlin notes that the PeopleNet system can send a message when a vehicle goes out of its pre-determined route or when it’s approaching a national landmark or military base. Location-based event reporting, or geofencing, is getting plenty of attention from regulators and tracking companies. All the major suppliers offer some version of geofencing and are refining their services.

Mike Brown, Aether’s vice president of product marketing, says geofencing has productivity benefits – such as notification when a truck arrives at a delivery or pick-up location – that fleets have always recognized. But it also has security implications. “If you have a load of hazardous material that shouldn’t leave the Dallas area, and it does, you’ll know it,” Brown says.

R&R Trucking’s Deel would like to see a wireless panic button for times when drivers are out of the cab fueling and a remote shutdown device in the event a truck gets away.

AirIQ offers the latter device. With AirIQ’s system, a carrier can disable the starter on a stolen or missing tractor. Once the vehicle is shutdown, it can’t be started again, says Miguel Gonsalves, vice president of marketing. Clients of the Canadian company have recovered three trucks they remotely shutdown, including one that was hijacked at gunpoint. “We’re able to disable the vehicle starter and note its location, speed and heading at that point,” Gonsalves says. “It’s as simple as a mouse click for the client.”

More frequent reporting is another tool available to mobile communications system users. Terion, which supplies trailer monitoring systems, has added an emergency track feature to its Fleetview product. The function tracks a lost or stolen trailer’s position at intervals ranging between 5 minutes to an hour, depending on the urgency. XTRA Lease began offering customers the emergency track feature, which allows users to bypass the previously set-up reporting schedule in June.

Volvo Trucks of North America, which unveiled its own asset-tracking system called VolvoLink in March, is exploring remote truck shutdowns.

“It’s not a great technological leap,” says Volvo’s Bio. “What we’re looking for and what customers have asked for is a way to protect the vehicle from being started. Or if a truck were expected of being hijacked, a way to power down that truck. We could do that soon, but it’s not something that we’ve commercialized yet.”

Security vigil
High-tech and low-tech devices can help prevent thefts and potential acts of terror, but they must be accompanied by a strong awareness and vigilance. Fleets are addressing the awareness issue and say drivers are eager to help.

R&R Trucking’s Deel says his drivers have taken advantage of security devices in the past to prevent possible problems. “We’ve relied upon on the panic button. Drivers have used it. If they’re concerned at all, they’re trained to press the panic button. In most of those cases you just monitor the situation. Sometimes the situation becomes very highly suspect. But nothing has come of it.”

But the fear is there. In May a truck hauling cyanide was stolen in Mexico and it made headlines throughout North America. Recent revelations that terrorists want to build dirty bombs with nuclear waste have heightened fears further. But if savvy carriers can add equipment to match their efforts at awareness, the threat might dissipate.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offers a security page on its website at

Defining truck security
Security coalition aims to set key standards

So far, motor carriers have largely escaped the heavy federal oversight and regulation that the airline industry saw after the Sept. 11 attacks. But most observers believe federal intervention is just one high-profile incident away.

That’s one of the driving forces behind the Freight Transportation Security Consortium (, a group of companies primarily involved in asset tracking. The group announced in February that they would work to establish common standards for security-related messaging and data encryption for the GPS location devices that track tank trucks and tank railcars used to carry hazardous materials.

More broadly, FTSC is working with OEMs and the government to achieve a common understanding of truck security priorities, says Drew Robertson, the group’s director and president of ASI-Transmatch.

“We’re working with OEMs to see if they can agree on safe, smart and secure devices on all new tractors and trailers,” Robertson says. “Should a tractor carrying hazmat have electronic braking? Should there be a communications pack between the driver and his company? Should the trailer be hooked up to the communications package? I think the answer is yes. And the government should help make this happen.”

Funding is the fundamental question, Robertson says. If hazmat haulers have to spend $5,000 to $10,000 of their own money to secure a truck, its unlikely that those carriers can afford to. Robertson argues the federal government may have to lift its excise tax on big rigs as an incentive to add security technology. “There’s probably no other way.”

The group is also working to standardize such technology so systems will work with each other from regardless of brand. “When it comes to safety and security manufacturers shouldn’t try to be proprietary,” Robertson says. “Rear radar should work the same from one to another. If you want a safe and smart vehicle, you have to meet these standards.”