Remote control security

What do 18 big-screen Hitachi televisions, 16,800 DVD players, 22,000 tons of Skippy peanut butter and $1 million worth of motorcycles have in common? They are a few of the many loads stolen from carriers last year.

Authorities estimate that $15 billion or more in goods is stolen each year while in transit. In many cases, carriers and shippers must pay the losses because cargo insurers increasingly are excluding coverage for geographical areas, such as South Florida, where cargo crimes are most rampant. Other insurance exclusions and rising premiums have increased the costs of cargo theft to carriers.

For more than a decade, fleets have used satellite tracking and mobile communications systems to increase efficiency and productivity in their operations. They also used wireless systems to recover stolen equipment as necessary. But recovery of stolen freight is rare. So with the financial consequences of cargo theft growing, fleets are dedicating more resources toward preventing theft – or trying to stop it as it’s happening.

The ongoing threat of terrorism has added even more urgency to transportation security. The cost of a stolen load pales in comparison to the potential cost of even a brief shutdown of a major road, port or rail yard due to a terrorist attack using a hazmat load, for example, as a weapon.

“We have to face the fact that the U.S. supply chain is our weak link in the economy,” says Bill Anderson, director of global security for Ryder Inc.

The tools for strengthening that link exist. Fleets can obtain real-time notification of exceptions from the norm. For example, geofencing allows operators to establish prohibited areas or a mandatory route for equipment. Integration of wireless communications with a variety of sensors and mechanical seals and locks can provide total visibility into a business’ operations and security. Fleet owners even can remotely lock/unlock, immobilize and shut down vehicles through integration with mechanical and electrical systems. Although driven by the need to thwart thieves and terrorists, some of these innovations carry operational or customer service benefits.

Right place, right time
Knowing an asset’s location is only the beginning of the variety of applications that can help monitor its security.

“We use PeopleNet satellite tracking as a key ingredient of our safety and security response plan,” says Jim Brown, vice president of operations and business development for Houston-based Service Transport Company, which operates 275 power units. “Eventually, we’d like to geofence the entire route. Anytime one of our units goes out of route could be a cause for concern, and we’d like to know about it.”

Geofencing allows managers to use a software applications to draw an imaginary perimeter around a location or route. Coordinates of the geofence are transmitted to an onboard computer, along with programming codes, to send an instant alert to the fleet manager if the system determines its location falls within or outside the company-defined parameters for location and time.

Because geofencing allows for both location and time parameters, many carriers see operational as well as security benefits. Service Transport wants geofencing along all of its routes so it can manage drivers’ arrival times by exception. If a truck has not reached a particular coordinate by the designated time, for example, operations can be alerted.

Similarly, Green Bay, Wis.-based Schneider National uses geofencing in its trailer-tracking system to capture arrival and departure events at shipping and receiving locations.

Schneider also receives notification when a trailer is hooked and unhooked, empty or not empty. The company now is installing Qualcomm’s T2 untethered trailer-tracking system throughout its fleet.

By integrating these events with dispatch information, “we have the intelligence to determine if an event is authorized,” says Paul Mueller, Schneider’s vice president of technology services. “When those events occur, we know the timing of when the events should occur, and we can correlate the actual events with the anticipated events in the load cycle.”

“Geofencing is a term used real loosely,” says Todd Felker, director of marketing for Terion, provider of the FleetView trailer management solution. Felker says that in addition to setting a geofence around a location to monitor arrival and departure events, fleets can set geofences to “lock down” specific trailer units, such as those loaded with high-value cargo. A fleet manager can be sent an alert in real time if a trailer is moved – even just a matter of feet – between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., for example.

Sealed and delivered
Unusual or unauthorized movement of a tractor or trailer is a big worry, but theft and tampering can occur when equipment is at rest exactly where it’s supposed to be. That’s one loss-prevention application for the variety of sensors, such as electronic seals and door units, that onboard computing and wireless communications systems typically integrate.

Although such sensors may not prevent theft or tampering, they at least give fleet owners an opportunity to react instantly to a potential problem. Plus, the integration of locks and sensors gives managers some additional peace of mind that in the absence of alerts, seals and locks haven’t been compromised.

Cadec recently introduced options called SecureTracker and DoorTracker for its Mobius TTS mobile information system. The systems use both an electronic seal and door sensor to communicate via radio with Cadec’s Mobius TTS in-cab computer. The Mobius TTS then can send real-time information to a fleet manager through a wide-area satellite or cellular network.

SecureTracker uses a small, trailer door-mounted box with a loop cable. The cable passes through a hasp or locking mechanism. Once the seal is set, it shows up as a visible icon on the onboard computer (OBC) display. If opened, the computer records the time and the location, says Tom Lemke, executive vice president of Cadec. If a seal is broken or door opened in the wrong location, the OBC can warn drivers through an audible tone as well as fleet managers with an instant alert, Lemke says.

Locked and loaded
Various electronic trailer and truck locks also can be integrated with onboard computers to report locked and unlocked events or status. In some cases, fleet managers even may want to arm and disarm the lock remotely or automatically, according to the truck or trailer’s location.

Kaba-Mas, a manufacturer of locking solutions, recently developed the Gitcon 150, an electronically controlled slamlock that secures the handle of a vertical locking bar on swing trailer doors. Using an RFID reader, the lock opens when the correct RFID chip is placed in front. The RFID chip can be embedded into a plastic card that drivers carry on their key chain, says Stephen Pollock, marketing manager for Kaba-Mas. The system can limit access to certain drivers or dockworkers and, when integrated with a trailer-tracking system, provide an electronic record of when and where a door was opened. Using wireless communications, managers can program the Gitcon 150 to restrict the number of openings each day – once for loading and once for unloading, for example.

Trailer locks are useful mostly in thwarting the opportunist – someone who is just looking for any easy target. But if the cargo is especially valuable – or dangerous – thieves might try to circumvent security in a way that leaves seals or locks intact. One area of vulnerability for exterior trailer seals and locks is that thieves can just cut the hasp, which lets them release the handle and open the doors, says Lt. Edward Petow of the Miami Dade Police Department and cargo crime expert.

Drivers or shippers can detect a broken hasp, but many thieves take out the rivet that connects the horizontal handle to the vertical bar, leaving no visible trace of evidence. They then can move the vertical bars to open the door. The handles stay in the hasps, and the seal or locks remain intact. Thieves then can replace the rivet with a similar-looking machine bolt or nut.

“If you were to deliver the trailer, there would be no evidence that it had been tampered with,” Petow says.

An interior trailer door lock is one way to address the vulnerabilities of exterior door locks. Darryl Deel, president of Joplin, Mo.-based R&R Trucking, recently tested such a device that was developed by Qualcomm. The 300-truck carrier hauls hazardous materials in dry-van trailers for the Department of Defense. The company was one of nine carriers that participated in a test of various high-tech security technologies sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

When used in conjunction with a wireless trailer-tracking system, the interior lock could be set and released only by a fleet manager and, if desired, only at a designated stop, says Norm Ellis, Qualcomm vice president and general manager. The lock has been tested, but it isn’t yet available commercially.

Deel is considering using trailer tracking primarily for its value in operations, but “I can see possibly down the road that an internal locking device may be cost-effective.” Currently, the company uses padlocks on its trailer doors. But Deel recognizes that combining trailer tracking with an interior lock could help eliminate tampering by a driver.

Stopping them before they start
Depending on the location of your equipment, geofences, sensors and even locks may be inadequate to catch a thief because you are at the mercy of local authorities who usually have higher priorities. Preventing the movement of a tractor or trailer is likely a more effective strategy.

One approach is to immobilize the trailer. One system, Talon by Transportation Safety Technologies, prevents a trailer’s air brakes from being released unless a trailer is connected to an authorized tractor. Talon is designed to allow integration with trailer-tracking systems, says TST President Mike Coyle. If a carrier drops a trailer at a customer location, for example, it can give the customer the ability to move the trailer by entering a code, either by the driver on a keypad or by a dispatcher or manager through a trailer-tracking system.

For fleets like Toronto, Ontario-based TFX International that always match trailers to the same tractors, it may make sense to focus security on the tractor.

“Once you take the key out of the ignition, the truck becomes the best kingpin lock in the world,” says company President Wally Horondyk. TFX uses specially constructed trailers to transport high-value vehicles. In 2004, the company had $1 million worth of Harley-Davidson motorcycles stolen by a thief who broke into a truck on his property, hotwired the ignition and drove off with a loaded trailer.

After this incident, Horondyk bought the Sentinel FM fleet management system from BSM Technologies. One of the features of the system is the ability to secure tractors by locking the doors and immobilizing them by killing the power to the ignition through a web-based interface.

“It might not be good for other people for stand-alone trailer protection, but it completely immobilizes the truck and provides security for the driver,” Horondyk says. “I can lock everything down remotely.”

Stopping them in their tracks
Some of these immobilization tools won’t work if a theft occurs when the truck is already running, such as with a hijack scenario. The same might be true if your driver is involved in the theft – a situation that experts say happens more often than people realize. In that case, you could have one more trick up your sleeve: shutting down the truck’s engine. Ryder uses such a system in some of its vehicles, Anderson says. Ryder’s onboard computers are equipped with a panic button that drivers can use to signal they are being hijacked or that a theft is happening.

“It allows us to detect whether the driver is out of route and to shut down the vehicle,” Anderson says. Through integration with the truck’s electronic control module, Ryder can use its TrackStar system to reduce the fuel flow to the engine remotely, he says, which doesn’t actually kill the ignition. It’s a gradual, controlled shutdown.

“We’ve never had to use that,” Anderson says.

Qualcomm has tested its remote shutdown capability, a feature that could be added to the OmniTRACS system for a few hundred dollars, Ellis says. “The challenging thing is shutting a vehicle down in an appropriate manner,” he says. “We worked very closely with OEMs as well as the FMCSA to make sure we consider all those options.” Shutting down a vehicle remotely is not a feature that many fleets would feel comfortable having – at least not yet.

“There is a lot of discussion today about being able to shut down a truck through the satellite system,” says Service Transport’s Brown. “Our safety department has some issues with that, so we’ll just have to follow the government’s lead and see where that evolves.”

Advancements in onboard computing and wireless communications give fleets many options to increase security monitoring and theft prevention efforts. Although some high-tech options are not financially feasible for all operations, in many cases the information needed to prevent theft already is available.


On-site security
Old Dominion uses layers of systems at its terminals

Less-than-truckload carriers face a major additional security threat that truckload carriers generally don’t: The handling of goods at its terminals. So Thomasville, N.C.-based Old Dominion Freight Lines directs the bulk of its theft-prevention efforts toward the terminal environment through a multi-layered security system, says Geoff Stephany, director of security. Those efforts focus on thwarting theft from both the outside and the inside. To prevent intruders on the premises of its 129 service centers, the company uses electric, non-lethal fences from Century Security.

Internal theft poses just as great a risk, however. That’s why Old Dominion secures its trailer doors with padlocks while trailers sit at service centers as well as while on the road. For high-value cargo that sits at any time at its service centers, the company uses a specialized bolt seal, the Trans-Lok by E.J. Brooks. Only the manager and dock supervisor have access to the special tool needed to remove the seal, Stephany says. The seals help Old Dominion track who opens and closes trailer doors – and when. Each time a dockworker applies or removes a seal, he enters the number into a dockyard management system. If any numbers are mismatched, the system generates a report to Stephany.

The carrier has digital video camcorders that use infrared sensors to record all motion at docks and in the yard. Using an Internet-based software program, Stephany can investigate events such as unauthorized doors opening and closing by pulling up a recording from any service center.

Together, the seals and video systems provide sufficient evidence to confront suspected individuals about cargo crimes, Stephany says. “We have been able to ascertain confessions from people.”