Truckers Recruited in War on Terror

Truckers recruited in war on terror (CNN)

Hoping to take advantage of alert eyes along the nation’s highways, the government is trying to enlist more truckers in the battle against terrorism. The Alexandria, Virginia-based Highway Watch, started by the American Trucking Associations in 1998 and funded since 2002 with homeland security money, focuses on safety and security. Spokesman John Willard said the volunteer program has received a total of about $40 million and “all 50 states have active programs.” He said Highway Watch continues to seek trained members. “Truck driver normally runs the same route every day. He is used to his surroundings,” said Dave Huneryager, president of the Tennessee Trucking Association. “Something may jump out at him.” Longtime trucker Ernie Sherrill agrees: “You see a lot of things.”

Besides looking out for potential threats, such as a tanker truck parked for an extended period near a bridge or overpass, volunteers are trained to “avoid becoming a target of terrorists.” “The Highway Watch effort seeks to prevent terrorists from using large vehicles or hazardous cargoes as weapons,” according to a program statement. Training for membership takes about an hour, said Stephanie Fouts, Highway Watch program manager. She said each of the “tens of thousands” of members is assigned an identification number to use when making a report to the around-the-clock operation.

While my first reaction was to try to come up with a clever “B.J. and the Bear” reference, this actually makes sense. Unlike the infamous T.I.P.S. program, this doesn’t sound like a program to encourage citizens to spy on one another but simply asking people to be alert and giving them some training on how to report something suspicious. As we’ve seen time and again, trucks are excellent platforms for improvised explosive devices. Presumably, people who drive trucks for a living would be able to more easily recognize “unusual” behavior than, say, a highway patrol officer.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ralph says:

    From 1990-2000 I drove throughout the U.S. (mostly east of the Mississippi) for a major trucking firm. This is not a bad idea. Most of the time (when distant from metro areas where CB radio is often swamped with idiots and “garbage-mouths”) truckers are wont to maintain a virtual moving “community” over the CB radio that extends “eyes and ears” over large areas of highway. The vast majority of drivers would take pride in doing this sort of “watch” and would strive to do it well. A little bit of organization and coordination might be all it would take to make the most of this.

  2. This also makes a lot of sense given that truckers can often just be in the right place at the right time to notice something. Take, for example, the DC sniper case. The snipers were spotted at a rest area by a trucker who happened to hear a radio report to look out for their car. He then had the foresight to turn his truck into a very effective makeshift barricade to prevent them from leaving.

    It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with scenarios where an alert trucker, who knows what to look for, could find himself in exactly the right spot to thwart a terrorist attack by reporting something suspicious and/or using his truck as a barricade again.

    $40 million seems a little pricy for a program like this, but that may very well just be because I don’t know what it’s actually being spent on. Nevertheless, the idea itself is an extremely good one.

  3. kappiy says:

    The thing that struck me about this post was the cost! $40 Million! How on earth could such a simple, one-hour training program, low-capital project cost that much?!?!

    According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there are 2.8 million truck drivers. This number encompasses all truckers–even those doing local delivery who would not be part of this program. Assuming all 2.8 million took the training, it would wind up costing $14/$15 per trucker. Obviously, since the program is geared more toward highway workers, the number of truckers going through the program is probably much less.

    I think that this “program” is a better example of government pork. It is important to remember that he American Trucking Associations is a major Washington lobbying group who has hired Haley Barbour and Linda Daschle to do their bidding.

    To fund a lobbying group to do “homeland security” training smacks of special interest influence peddling at its worse.

    Links: Trucking stats:
    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos246.htm
    ATA’s Lobbyists:
    http://www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists/client.asp?id=1132&year=2000

  4. Paul says:

    kappiy ‘s point not withstanding, I think it is an excellent idea.

    I worked a few years unloading trucks and later in life I worked part time as a CB radio repair guy… (When you pay your own way thru school you’ll do anything) Both jobs had me working with truckers.

    The knowledge the truckers have of their environment is actually quite impressive. The rules on all trucks, but especially on hazardous cargo are quite complex. Truckers can spot anomalies with another truck far quicker than a typical police officer.

    Not to mention the community effect.

    The advantage of using truckers goes well beyond simply having more eyes and ears.

  5. Kappiy says:

    I have no problems with truckers and I agree with Paul, Ralph, & Russell, in theory; but $40 million is a staggering amount to give to an industry lobbyist group.

    One of the main problems that many people had with the establishment of Homeland Security was whether establishing and funding a big bureaucracy would be ripe for financial abuse and chicanery.

    I’d like to know exactly what that $40 million is is getting taxpayers.