Thwarting theft

Most thefts result from employee negligence.

From coast to coast, Sunset Pacific Transportation is always on guard against cargo theft. For the past 15 years, the company has tracked its vehicles with satellite communications, but that didn’t stop a couple of loaded trailers from being stolen.

Taylor Little, president of the 70-truck carrier, realized that loaded trailers left unattended at the company’s Los Angeles headquarters – or anywhere else en route to their destination – were easy targets for thieves. So last year, Sunset Pacific installed a trailer-tracking system from SkyBitz on its 150 trailers.

By using a feature called geofencing, Little and other fleet managers can go online and “lock down” trailers at any location. If a trailer crosses a geofence – a tight, virtual perimeter of coordinates surrounding the trailer – before a specified time, Little receives an instant text alert on his cell phone. He then can go online to receive position updates every three minutes.

“I’m hoping that if we ever do have one stolen, I’ll get it back before the contents are offloaded,” Little says.

Estimates of losses from cargo theft vary, but most agree it is at least $16 billion a year in the United States. For small carriers such as Sunset Pacific, having just one load stolen could be disastrous, as it could ruin its reputation and future business with a customer. It also leads to hefty increases in cargo insurance.

Today, the stakes are higher than ever. For the past six years, the consequences of a stolen truck could have meant much more than a sizeable financial loss. Fortunately, terrorists have not used trucks as weapons of mass destruction in that time, but the worry remains.

While thieves are a determined lot, employee negligence – drivers leaving equipment unattended at a truck stop, for example – remains the biggest cause of cargo theft, says Lt. Twan Uptgrow of the Miami Dade Tomcats, a police task force agency that investigates cargo theft.

If there’s something positive you could say about cargo theft, it might be that it usually doesn’t involve violence. Instead, thieves typically seek opportunities involving the least resistance possible. About 70 percent of all cargo theft is organized in some way, with national and international crime rings playing a large role, says Mark Perrin, senior vice president of Supply Chain Integrity, a provider of security and loss prevention services.

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Professional thieves often target specific loads such as consumer electronics, but a growing trend is for thieves to take anything they can find, says Bruce Wishart, director of security for Indianapolis-based Celadon. From his own analysis of cargo crimes, police reports and networking with other carriers, Wishart says that thieves will steal a vehicle that’s an easy mark.

“If it is not something they want, they just leave it,” Wishart says.

Technology offers several solutions for securing cargo and equipment, but in the end, tight security isn’t a byproduct of the technology you use – but rather your company’s culture.

Picking and preparing your people
Drivers and other employees that manage the physical movement of freight are the first line of defense. LTL giant Con-Way Freight focuses heavily on training its personnel to understand their critical role in gathering intelligence and following procedures to ensure the secure transport of freight.

“They are the force multipliers within the Con-Way family,” says Curt Shewchuck, chief security officer of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company. “It is part of our culture and core values for each employee to participate in the process,” says Shewchuck, who recently was honored with the 2007 Leadership Award from the American Trucking Associations’ Security Council.

Before placing too much trust in employees as the frontline defenders, however, you must be sure you can trust them. Because of the driver shortage, companies are taking shortcuts during the hiring process, says John Tabor, director of corporate security at National Retail Systems, a 2,000-truck fleet based in Secaucus, N.J. Mixed in with the pool of driver applicants are a few bad apples who have been dismissed by previous employers for compromising security policies and procedures – or worse.

The Department of Transportation requires motor carriers to verify three years of employment history for new drivers, but criminal checks are mandatory only for hazmat endorsements on commercial driver’s licenses, in which case the Transportation Security Administration performs background checks. In addition, drivers who enter secure airport areas and major ports must submit to background checks in order to obtain a transportation worker identification card (TWIC).

To bolster security, Celadon uses several different pre-employment services to perform in-depth criminal background searches on all drivers, regardless of what type of freight they haul.

“We want to get an overall view, not just from one source,” Wishart says.

National Retail Systems performs a 10-year criminal background search for every location of residence for driver applicants, Tabor says.

“Most companies only run a current address, county or statewide check,” he says. “(Drivers) can get around the system.”

Con-way’s human resource department initially interviews and screens each application for accuracy and any indications of misrepresentations or obvious criminal violations that would exclude employment, Shewchuck says. It then screens applicants manually against the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorism List. All Con-way drivers are hazmat-credentialed, requiring a TSA criminal background check. The HR department – and, if necessary, the corporate security department – revalidates all information obtained by these screens and checks.

Besides using government records for performing background checks on drivers, Supply Chain Integrity provides a Web-based database and a variety of information services for the transportation industry. Motor carriers use the database to share information with other fleets about drivers and other employees that have breached company security policies, Perrin says.

Hiring trustworthy personnel is only the beginning. At Celadon, driver training is crucial and vital to the company’s success in transporting high-risk freight, Wishart says. Training begins in new driver orientation, and continues in more depth for drivers that haul high-risk freight. Wishart, a law enforcement veteran himself, frequently contacts drivers and fleet managers about where they need to take extra precautions based on the intelligence he gathers from other fleets, police agencies and cargo theft task forces across the country.

Celadon covers security procedures during mandatory orientation and driver meetings. “Security is like safety,” Wishart says. “It is an awareness of what is going on, and what you can do to prevent a theft. Our utmost priority is the safety of our fleet and drivers. We don’t want to put their lives at risk over a piece of equipment.”

Con-Way Freight’s procedures and information systems reinforce its training. If employees see any exceptions, such as a load running behind schedule or a shortage, that indicate possible theft, they log critical information about the incident into the company’s Security Incident Management System (SIMS), which generates a report to the corporate security department. Security personnel work with regional managers to identify the root cause of any exception.

In addition to systems designed to identify problems on the fly, Con-way’s corporate security group and quality assurance (QA) department conducts ongoing risk assessments at every company location. “If it is an exception that we don’t fully understand, we encourage people to work with their field support groups to explore what the exception is about,” Shewchuck says.

Command and control
Information technology not only can facilitate and reinforce the human element, but it also can perform functions that people can’t – at least not reliably. Global positioning tracking and mobile communications – both in the cab and on trailers – are among the most powerful intelligence gathering tools to spot activities or exceptions in the movement of freight that indicate security breaches. Gina Dondero learned that lesson just a few months ago.

On June 30, Dondero – fleet manager of Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Devil Leasing – received a call from a customer who said a trailer had been stolen with 24 refrigerators inside. Dondero quickly found the location of the missing trailer by using TransCore’s trailer-tracking system, which Red Devil had installed on all of its 70 trailers.

“We caught it early enough,” Dondero says. “We were able to contact police and get the highway patrol involved.” The police, suspecting the theft was part of an organized ring, used the tracking information to get a search warrant to recover the stolen trailer – with the freight still intact.

National Retail Systems uses exception-based reporting tools such as geofencing to track driver activity that could leave high-value loads susceptible to theft.

“With nearly 2,000 tractors, it is not really efficient to have dispatchers monitoring all their activity,” Tabor says. By using the GE Veriwise trailer-tracking system, the company places geofences around certain corridors of theft, such as Georgia, to alert dispatchers when loads enter the area. Tabor also uses geofencing to lock down trailers at any location where drivers have to stop.

“One of our selling points is that we do not lose trailers. In the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve had one taken, but we recovered that.”

Besides knowing the location and status of equipment, fleets can deploy a range of wireless communication devices – generally known as telematics – to monitor and control remote assets and freight more closely. For some vehicles in Ryder System’s large fleet, the company uses telematics to allow and disallow who is able to start a vehicle, says Bill Anderson, director of global security for Ryder System.

As a dedicated supply chain service provider, Ryder has specific security requirements for each fleet as it works with customers to identify and tailor its security strategy based on what package the customer selects.

Ryder uses a cellular telematics system called RydeSmart that it developed with Teletrac. For some vehicles, Ryder has configured RydeSmart to detect when vehicle doors are opened and to equip vehicles with a remote shutdown capability.

“We have the capability to do that in select portions of our fleet,” Anderson says. “For us, it is a risk-based approach. The way we approach it is on a customer-based scenario.”

Technology also can help take over when humans err. Celadon constantly monitors its equipment with technology and through special policies and procedures governing high-risk loads. But even the best drivers are prone to human errors, such as leaving vehicles unattended. In addition, Celadon wanted to find a way to protect drivers who, when faced with danger, may feel obligated to defend their equipment rather than flee for safety.

About a year ago, the company began implementing the Magtec M5K security system, which automatically prevents the vehicle from moving when a driver sets the tractor or trailer parking brake or after a short period of time with the engine idling. To operate the vehicle, drivers must enter a matching six-digit code into a numeric keypad, which is part of the M5K’s keyless driver authentication system.

To date, 230 of Celadon’s trucks are equipped with the system. Qualcomm has offered Magtec integration for a couple of years, and PeopleNet also recently announced the integration of the Magtec M5K with its in-cab g3 computing platform. Integration with mobile communications allows Celadon to manage driver authentication codes and truck identifications, change codes over the air, and even disable a moving vehicle remotely, if necessary. Since using the Magtec system for more than a year, Wishart says Celadon has prevented at least two known attempts of theft.

Strength in numbers
Even with dozens or hundreds of employees and the latest technology on your side, information your operation gathers by itself isn’t enough to ensure maximum security. Celadon, for example, networks with other carriers and taps into the intelligence gathered by various transportation and law enforcement councils throughout the nation, such as the Southeast Transportation Security Council ( and the Miami Dade Tomcats, Wishart says. Other good resources include the American Trucking Associations’ Security Council, the International Cargo Security Council ( and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (

Intelligence on cargo theft is available in the private sector as well. For example, Supply Chain Integrity (, which is owned by vehicle theft recovery firm LoJack, maintains an extensive database of intelligence that relates to cargo theft, Perrin says. By leveraging LoJack’s extensive relationships with cargo theft task forces, police agencies and information shared by fleets and other supply chain members, the company can distribute timely intelligence immediately. For example, a fleet could get an alert that a theft or hijacking is about to take place in Los Angeles based on information gleaned from a confidential informant that cargo thieves paid a local gang thousands to heist a load of electronics.

“When something hot comes up, we get it out immediately,” Perrin says. Fleets also can use Supply Chain Integrity’s covert cargo tracking system that automatically puts geofences around any hotspots to provide fleet managers with an alert if their vehicles or cargo enter a high-risk area.

“Everybody suffers losses,” says Perrin. “There is no competitive advantage to withhold intelligence.”

In the end, a multifaceted and layered approach that relies on training, communication, technology, networking and good old-fashioned tools like locks, lighting and fencing is the only way to maximize your security efforts.

Conduct ongoing risk assessments, and validate that security procedures and processes are being followed at every location. “Our goal is to have zero risk based on several factors, such as the probability of occurrence and the probability of reoccurrence,” says Shewchuck.

You need all the help you can get, because without a thorough strategy for security in place, thieves may be more focused on stealing your load than you are on protecting it.

Steps to savvy security
In-transit management is the core of theft prevention

Carriers, shippers and receivers can use all types of tools – fences, gates, locks, lighting, video cameras and surveillance personnel, among others – to monitor and secure cargo at each end of a trip. But once the truck is on the road, your driver and some technology are all that lie between a load delivered and a load stolen. To secure cargo as much as possible between pickup and delivery, consider these industry best practices:

  • For high-value loads, have drivers acknowledge at the point of dispatch that they have read and understand all the warnings, assigned routing and required security procedures of the load, advises Mark Perrin, senior vice president of Supply Chain Integrity.
  • The first 200 miles following the pickup of a load are the riskiest. Make sure drivers have enough fuel and available hours to drive at least 300 miles before stopping.
  • Never let drivers drop trailers without approval, and remind them to engage all anti-theft devices and locks for doors, windows, parking brakes, trailer door, etc. – before leaving equipment unattended at truck stops and other locations.
  • Use tracking devices with geofencing capabilities to notify dispatchers immediately when drivers enter high-risk areas, stop at unauthorized locations, go off route, or run late for a delivery.
  • If drivers need to stop at locations other than pre-authorized stops, require them to communicate to operations in advance of where, why and how long they are going to be there, says Bruce Wishart, director of security for Celadon.
  • Immediately report theft or tampering to local police and dispatch. Drivers should have their vehicle identifiers on their person in event of a theft, says Curt Shewchuck, chief security officer of Con-Way Freight.
  • Instruct drivers to never discuss contents of a load.
  • At truck stops, drivers should park so that the truck is in plain sight.
  • Drivers should inspect seals and locks prior to leaving a truck unattended and when
  • In team operations, one driver should remain with the load at all times.
  • Drivers should stop their vehicles only for law enforcement when the officers have a marked vehicle. “If you don’t feel that it is a right situation, call 911, or drive at a slower pace until you get to some place with a lighted area and witnesses,” says Lt. Twan Uptgrow of Miami Dade Tomcats, a cargo theft police task force.

Gadgets by demand?
The feds haven’t mandated security devices – yet

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the airline industry has seen major operational changes due to security regulation, but so far the impact on the trucking industry has been limited mostly to background checks for hazmat and port drivers, tighter rules for cross-border operations and extra paperwork for food transport. These requirements do present burdens on the industry, of course. But given the concern for homeland security, legislation and regulation certainly could have required even more, such as the mandatory adoption of security-related technology.

That’s not to say legislators and regulators haven’t considered it. For example, one infamous proposal in California in the wake of the attacks would have required that trucks carrying high-risk cargo be equipped with devices that would allow law enforcement officers to shut down their engines – even while they were moving at highway speeds. Cooler heads prevailed.

Efforts at the federal level have involved more deliberation. About two years ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration completed an extensive evaluation and field operational test (FOT) with several carriers that used different technologies to increase the security of hazmat shipments. The purpose of the study was to determine what levels of security can be attained through deployment of the technologies.

The core technology in the FOT was an onboard computer (OBC) – for an established communications network with the vehicle – and GPS tracking capabilities. On top of this, the FOT looked at the performance of additional security functions integrated into the device: a global login for driver identification, panic button, vehicle disabling, trailer-tracking and geofencing applications.

The FOT concluded that the OBC it studied with the additional integrated security functions provides a reliable data transfer mechanism between the vehicle and the office. Some findings of the study include:

  • In-dash panic buttons and driver remote panic buttons are an effective technology. Recorded panic alert notifications took between 25 seconds to about one minute to alert dispatchers.
  • Geofencing was an excellent technology to locate a vehicle that was off route or in an area where management did not want that truck to be positioned, and to keep drivers from stopping for excessive periods of time at unauthorized locations.
  • Remote disabling techniques can include blocking fuel or sending instructions directly to the vehicle’s data bus, causing loss of throttle power. The OBC also was configured to shut down the vehicle whenever there was a loss of satellite signal strength, such as when cables are tampered with or the receiver unit is covered.

Most of all, researchers learned what fleet owners already knew: Technology is only part of the solution. Based on a panel of experts, the study concluded that all of this technology combined could address, at best, only about one-third of the potential hazmat-based vulnerabilities.

For the complete report, titled “Hazardous Materials Safety and Security Field Operational Test,” visit