SAN JOSE, Calif. — A recent study for the Department of Homeland Security urges the government and trucking to tighten security in order to prevent terrorists from using gasoline tankers as weapons — a report made timely by the February attack on a federal office building by a suicide pilot. Industry representatives, however, say tanker safety has always been a priority, and the safeguards in place since 9/11 have proved effective.
“We consider gasoline tankers, and to a lesser extent, propane tankers to be the most attractive options for terrorists seeking to use highway-borne hazmat because they can create intense fires in public assemblies and residential properties,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, director of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s National Transportation Security Center of Excellence. “We strongly urge that DHS, state governments and the industry take a renewed look at flammable liquids and gases as a weapon of opportunity, and at a strategy to improve security measures and technology.”
The institute’s report, “Potential Terrorist Uses of Highway-Borne Hazardous Materials,” urges that the government — which it says has focused more on hazmat that can cause catastrophic losses — also focus “as terrorists tend to” on the most readily available, least protected hazmat.
The researchers note that terrorists have discussed substituting fire for harder-to-acquire explosives. Gasoline tankers have greater appeal because “they can easily produce intense fires, operate in target-rich environments with predictable routes, and pose few security challenges,” the report suggests.
The report calls for a “clear strategy” to increase and sustain security, and for resolving “significant jurisdictional issues” between federal and state authorities; strengthening hazmat security measures in the field; and implementing “vehicle tracking technologies, panic alarms, and immobilization capabilities” for vehicles carrying specific hazardous materials, including gasoline.
Those in the trucking industry, however, may question whether more government research was necessary to determine that a gasoline tanker, if mishandled, could be dangerous.
“There are really no new findings in this report,” said Rich Moskowitz, vice president and regulatory affairs counsel for the American Trucking Associations. He suggested the study simply concludes that gasoline does burn, that tankers do operate in highly populated areas, and that gasoline is probably easier to come by than explosives.
He also noted the report highlights that industry security measures are already in place.
“And these security measures have been effective,” he said. “No terrorist attacks using commercially transported hazmat have occurred in the United States since Sept. 11.”
Of course, the possibility of such an event is conceivable “on an academic level,” but Moskowitz readily ticks off a list of current protections: hazmat endorsement background checks, security training requirements and written security plan requirements which “recognize that a one-size-fits-all solution is not going to work” in a diverse trucking industry. Additionally, there are routing and permitting requirements, depending on the class of hazardous material being transported, as well as standards for the terminal facilities.
One area of the report ATA can get behind is the need for jurisdictional uniformity.
“It is virtually impossible for [trucking] to comply with different sets of regulatory requirements as we cross city lines, county lines, state lines,” he said. “We need a single entity in the federal government that is knowledgeable as to the trucking industry’s operations to adopt uniform regulations that we can comply with.”
As an example of “how this issue has spun out of control,” Moskowitz pointed to the number of different — “but virtually identical” — background checks drivers must go through to haul hazmat, to access ports and airports, or to cross international borders.
“You’ve got drivers spending hundreds of dollars, carrying multiple credentials that do not increase security,” he said. “One background check is something that the industry supports, and will improve security,” but the multiple background checks are “a poster child for bureaucratic inefficiencies.”
As to the report’s recommendation that all tankers carry tracking equipment, Moskowitz noted that such technology is beneficial for some industry segments, but not all — the cost should make operational sense for a carrier. A universal mandate would be unfairly expensive, and such technology is arguably ineffective against a reasonably informed attack.
“It provides a false sense of security,” Moskowitz said. “It is so easily defeated.”
And, contrary to a report scenario in which a gasoline tanker disappears, a rigorous daily delivery schedule means an out-of-route tanker would be reported very quickly, with or without tracking gear, says John Conley, president of National Tank Truck Carriers, a trade association.
“If they’re a half-hour late, somebody’s calling,” Conley said. “It’s not just misleading, it simply isn’t true that a gasoline tanker could be missing for up to a couple of days.”
He pointed out that gasoline tankers make 50,000 deliveries a day — and that the driver is always with the truck.
Like ATA, NTTC also supports regulatory consistency nationally, and better coordination within the federal government.
Otherwise, Conley too suggested the report contained no substantially new information.
“There’s certainly nothing that I saw that we haven’t talked about many times,” he said. “The concept that somebody could take a chemical trailer or a gasoline trailer, and do something bad with it, certainly pre-dated 9/11.”
But the fact that nothing has happened doesn’t mean truckers shouldn’t continue to be vigilant.
“Truckers really are the educated eyes that are out there,” Conley said. “If you see something that doesn’t make sense, it’s probably worth checking.”
Which is where Bill Arrington, general manager of Highway & Motor Carrier Programs for the Transportation Security Administration comes in. It’s his job to develop government/industry partnerships to guard against truck-based attacks.
“As long as nothing i