Stopping Osama's road rage
There will be another Sept. 11. On that day, in 2002,
we’ll see exactly how much progress has been made in the fight against
Few industries were spared when the World Trade Center
buildings crumbled to earth. The event hit the U.S. like a nuclear
bomb—the explosion started at ground zero and the fallout has spread
nationwide. The transportation sector was knocked on its back.
And the airlines are still having trouble. Despite arming
the cockpit doors and a new security bill, consumer confidence is at an
all-time low. Some travelers have turned to the interstate instead of the
runway—but what’s the security word on the street?
Two months ago, it was reported that a group received
training certificates from a trucking school in Colorado. The twist to the
story was none of the members actively pursued jobs after graduation. In
Pennsylvania, a license examiner was selling credentials which enabled people
to receive hazardous material trucking licenses.
“But there is no evidence that these people were in
any way tied to terrorism,” Larry King, deputy secretary for planning at
the Pennsylvania DOT, told Roads & Bridges.
Still, true or not, the incidents gave a boost to a growing
fear—an attack on the surface.
Fortunately, the U.S. government, state DOTs and industry
associations are looking to strike first.
Terrorist talk has been circling this nation for years. In
his article, titled “Transportation Security: Agenda for the 21st
Century,” Stephen E. Flynn made an eerie claim to what could happen on
American soil as the year 2000 came to a close.
“U.S. transportation policy makers, engineers,
regulators and researchers must adapt to the reality that transportation
security can no longer be treated as a secondary or even tertiary issue,”
he said. “With the changing nature of conflict in the world, the United
States must be mindful of the vulnerability of its critical infrastructure.
“Current and future adversaries are likely to choose
asymmetric means, such as the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, to
register displeasure with the status of the United States as the world’s
dominant power. But instead of targeting an American warship in a foreign port,
hostile states and international terrorist organizations may challenge American
economic and cultural might closer to home. The openness of the information,
energy, finance and transportation systems that sustain American wealth and
power also provides attractive targets.”
Flynn supported his claim with the following evidence:
preparations for New Year 2000 suspected Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressan, who
had ties to Osama bin Laden, was caught transporting a trunk load of
takes three hours for five U.S. Customs agents to inspect a single container on
a commercial carrier, and more than 16.4 million trucks and 5 million 40-ft
containers entered the U.S. in 1999. Trade is currently on pace to double over
the next one to two decades; and
estimated 5 to 10 million pounds of chlorofluorocarbons are smuggled into the
U.S. each year to supply the black market, and groups could use the same system
to smuggle weapons of mass destruction.
What happened in New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001
kicked agencies into action. The American Association of State Highway &
Transportation Officials (AASHTO) formed the Task Force on Transportation
Security to address issues of security and emergency preparedness relating to
bridges, tunnels and other facilities critical to the highway transportation
The group’s objective is to share in-formation and
advise member departments and AASHTO on appropriate actions regarding the
vulnerability of the highway transportation assets and possible enhancements of
the security of these assets;
enhancement guidelines for emergency response plans for highway transportation;
with U.S. Transpor-tation Command, especially the Military Traffic Management
Command for military mobilization.
A $20 billion spending plan in support of “homeland
security,” which contains $5.8 billion in potential spending for
highways, transit, rail and aviation security, was introduced by Senate
Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).
Byrd stressed the intention of the bill was to combat fear,
improve security and fund projects that would have long-lasting benefit to the
“Literally everything is a concern,” said King.
“Bridges and tunnels get talked about most often as possible points of
high vulnerability. But we are potentially vulnerable anywhere. I don’t
think the Task Force has drawn any lines around the limits of what they might
consider as vulnerability at this point.”
Threats through and across
On Nov. 2 traffic continued to flow across San
Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, but authorities were taking the proper
measures to safeguard the area against possible terrorist attacks. The extra
security came after California Gov. Gray Davis warned enemy groups may have
targeted four suspension bridges in the state—the Golden Gate, Oakland
Bay Bridge, San Diego-Coronado Bridge and the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which
crosses the main channel into the port of Los Angeles.
Davis authorized and dispatched the National Guard shortly
after hearing about the possible new line of attacks, and there were two units
of two soldiers walking the Golden Gate sidewalks during the alert.
“The one thing we learned on Sept. 11 is that
we’re not sure what the biggest threat might be,” Golden Gate
Bridge General Manager Celia Kupersmith told Roads & Bridges. “I
think the 11th surprised everybody. We’re certainly watching things.
We’re looking for unattended packages and people in areas where they don’t
The Golden Gate’s security response to Sept. 11 was
immediate. Prior to the assault there was 24-hour access for bicycles and the
bridge was open to pedestrians from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. During the alert, people
were only allowed to walk between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and the window for bikes
was 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. A bike shuttle ran during off hours.
Also, the California Highway Patrol, which was on roving
patrols, had stationed posts.
Davis took some heat for pushing the panic button. Federal
officials downplayed the governor’s warning and said information about
the threat did not come from credible sources.
Questions, however, linger whether a span attack could be
“There is some surveillance capability, but I
don’t think it’s by any means extensive—particularly when it
comes to bridges,” said King. “It’s probably more so in
tunnels, for obvious reasons.”
Tunnel security is actually a case of more or less depending
on where you go. The boroughs in New York City probably have the most extensive
setup in the country. Two major agencies operate four tunnels, including the
Holland and Lincoln. A coordinated emergency response plan is in place, and
practice exercises are conducted. In fact, the New York Port Authority sets
test fires in the Holland every year.
More remote locations, however, lack the funding for proper
“Tunnels have always been a threat out there,”
Art Bendelius, senior vice president, technical director for tunnel ventilation
for Parsons-Brinckerhoff, told Roads & Bridges. “A tunnel is an
unusual configuration for something like a fire, a fire bomb or something like
that because the incident occurs in the same environment that the passengers
are in. If someone would put a bomb in a tunnel the tunnel would be gone,
there’s not much you can do. New York has been very concerned about the
road tunnels because anybody can drive into them.”
The U.S. government funded a series of tunnel fire tests in
the Memorial Tunnel in West Virginia in the late 90s demonstrating the kinds of
systems needed. The tunnel has now been retrofitted to train individuals in
fighting terrorist issues.
If a bomb does go undetected and detonates a major fire
could claim more casualties. The right ventilation and a well-practiced plan
could prevent such a catastrophe.
Bendelius suggests at least two exercises a year where
responders are brought in and shown what it’s like to operate in a
“I was at one recently where they brought in the
emergency medical services and they found out they couldn’t transport
their stretchers, so modifications had to be made so they could turn a corner
with them,” said Bendelius. “That would have been a real problem if
the situation was real. But not all operators do that on a continuous basis due
to budget situations.”
A lot of the tunnels in the U.S. were built before 1950 and
without ventilation systems—a dangerous deficiency in a time of
If planes can be turned into traveling bombs, so can trucks.
Officials aren’t taking any chances at the Hoover Dam,
where all commercial trucks, recreational vehicles and vehicles pulling
trailers are being re-routed on Route 68.
Anti-theft systems like ones offered by LoJack, Dedham,
Mass., are receiving some attention.
“(Prior to Sept. 11) the trucking industry was well
aware of the huge threat involving cargo security,” Kathy Slatcher,
national sales manager, commercial division, for LoJack, told Roads &
Bridges. “The transportation industry hasn’t across the board been
proactive with security and I think this has been a reason to really get them
to commit to a high level of security that they need.”
Over the last couple of months Lo-Jack has been installed on
mosquito-control trucks in Florida and inquiries have come from petroleum
LoJack is not a Global Positioning Satellite system. Small,
silent transmitters hidden inside equipment send radio signals which can be
picked up by local police. Police within a five-mile radius can track the
signals via an on-board computer. It typically takes “two to three hours for
recovery,” according to Slatcher, and LoJack is currently available in 18
“If you think about it, they’re using planes and
other items that can’t be stopped as bombs,” said Slatcher.
“It would be a natural transition to go from planes to trucks, which
there are several thousand all over the U.S. at any given time.”