April 2, 2018
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 terrorism.

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.

Using force

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:

During preparations for New Year 2000 suspected Algerian terrorist Ahmed Ressan, who had ties to Osama bin Laden, was caught transporting a trunk load of bomb-making materials;

It 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

An 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 system.

The group’s objective is to share in-formation and advise member departments and AASHTO on appropriate actions regarding the following areas:

The vulnerability of the highway transportation assets and possible enhancements of the security of these assets;

Possible enhancement guidelines for emergency response plans for highway transportation; and

Coordination 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 nation.

“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 belong.”

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 avoided.

“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 security.

“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 tunnel.

“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 terrorism.

Truck tracking

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 transportation companies.

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 major markets.

“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.”

About the Author

Bill Wilson

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