Truckers Watching the Highways

Highway Watch is yet another civilian distributed counterterrorism program. Basically, truckers are trained to look out for suspicious activities on the highways. Despite its similarities to such ill-conceived still-born programs like TIPS, I think this one has some merit.

Why? Two things: training, and a broader focus than terrorism. This is from their overview:

Highway Watch® training provides Highway Watch® participants with the observational tools and the opportunity to exercise their expert understand of the transportation environment to report safety and security concerns rapidly and accurately to the authorities. In addition to matters of homeland security - stranded vehicles or accidents, unsafe road conditions, and other safety related situations are reported eliciting the appropriate emergence responders. Highway Watch® reports are combined with other information sources and shared both with federal agencies and the roadway transportation sector by the Highway ISAC.

Sure, the "matters of homeland security" is the sexy application that gets the press and the funding, but "stranded vehicles or accidents, unsafe road conditions, and other safety related situations" are likely to be the bread and butter of this kind of program. And interstate truckers are likely to be in a good position to report these things, assuming there's a good mechanism for it.

About the training:

Highway Watch® participants attend a comprehensive training session before they become certified Highway Watch® members. This training incorporates both safety and security issues. Participants are instructed on what to look for when witnessing traffic accidents and other safety-related situations and how to make a proper emergency report. Highway Watch® curriculum also provides anti-terrorism information, such as: a brief account of modern terrorist attacks from around the world, an outline explaining how terrorist acts are usually carried out, and tips on preventing terrorism. From this solid baseline curriculum, different segments of the highway sector have or are developing unique modules attuned to their specific security related situation.

Okay, okay, it does sound a bit hokey. "...tips on preventing terrorism" indeed. (Tip #7: When transporting nuclear wastes, always be sure to padlock your truck. Tip #12: If someone asks you to deliver a trailer to the parking lot underneath a large office building and run away very fast, always check with your supervisor first.) But again, I like the inclusion of the mundane "what to look for when witnessing traffic accidents and other safety-related situations and how to make a proper emergency report."

This program has a lot of features I like in security systems: it's dynamic, it's distributed, it relies on trained people paying attention, and it's not focused on a specific threat.

Usually we see terrorism as the justification for something that is ineffective and wasteful. Done right, this could be an example of terrorism being used as the justification for something that is smart and effective.

Posted on December 8, 2005 at 12:12 PM • 37 Comments

Comments

Pat CahalanDecember 8, 2005 12:35 PM

> Tip #12: If someone asks you to deliver a trailer to the parking lot underneath a large
> office building and run away very fast, always check with your supervisor first.)

Heh. That's got to be in there as a joke to keep the target audience reading.

antimediaDecember 8, 2005 12:50 PM

Or it could be useful tips, like, if you're hauling hazardous material, be aware of the locations on your route that could be used to hijack your truck. Don't park on the side of the road to rest. Go to a large truck stop with good lighting, and park in a location where any activity around your truck would be very noticeable. Keep situational awareness at all times. Be aware of the number and types of vehicles around you and their movements in relation to yours. Be suspicious of any vehicle with multiple occupants that follows your truck for more than five miles. Etc., etc., etc.

You know, the kinds of things that might actually be helpful as opposed to sarcastic ridicule.

Ed T.December 8, 2005 12:57 PM

This reminds me of a program called Cabs on Patrol (COP), which used taxi cab drivers to spot/report "impaired drivers." While the program is more single-focused than Highway Watch, it was also the jumping-off point for other, similar programs.

I agree with Bruce that training is the key to this being a success -- the idea that your average everyday bus-riding commute drone can tell the difference between someone who needs to take his meds (or is using meds he shouldn't) and a HIED (Humanoid Improvised Explosive Device) is simply asinine.

-EdT.

AGDecember 8, 2005 1:01 PM

Nice to see my tax dollars at work on such a sure fire way to curb terrorism!

Terror wont find rest, shelter, or a 59 cent coffee at THIS MANS TRUCK STOP!!!

Sidebar->Was it not our fine tax dollars at work that got these people so ticked at us to begin with?

Mike SherwoodDecember 8, 2005 1:21 PM

It is reassuring to see some people are still considering community involvement to be a positive thing. This is really the only viable approach to get the amount of manpower needed to cover a large area with trained observers.

They must be doing something right if they have real people in the real world reporting things that seem suspicious:

http://www.highwaywatch.com/press_room/release_071205.html

ARLDecember 8, 2005 1:43 PM

I would not discount the anti-terrorist aspect of this program. In the real world truck based bombings are not uncommon and the materials that could be used in a real attack (eg a few thousand gallons of gasoline) are going to be moved using trucks.

The people who might actualy be able to detect such a thing would be the truckers who understand the industry and might notice something out of order.

ZwackDecember 8, 2005 1:45 PM

Antimedia said "Be suspicious of any vehicle with multiple occupants that follows your truck for more than five miles"

I guess you haven't done much highway driving on some of the major non-interstate routes. US 26 is a fairly common truck route from the Pacific coast to Portland Oregon and then on down to Mount Hood, through Central Oregon and on to Boise. I-84 covers some of the same ground but sometimes one is open while the other is closed. Highway 26 is a single lane in each direction fairly frequently. In some places for well over five miles. The idea that a multiple occupant vehicle following you for any distance is full of hiijackers rather than, say, tourists is insane. US 101 through Oregon and Washington is also frequently single lane.

So, without holding your comments up to "sarcastic ridicule" I think that giving tips like "panic because someone is behind you" is counter productive.

Can I ask how many truck hijackings occur daily? Monthly? Annually? How many of those are done by ambushes? And how many are performed by terrorists?

The FBI UCR lists 171,750 robberies taking place in the street/highway in 2004. This would include someone stopping you in the street pointing a gun at you and demanding your wallet. So, my guess is that while ambush type hijackings occur (Mexico is a more common location for this and they only have around 1,000 per year) it is a very rare occurence.

Z.

Erik CrlseenDecember 8, 2005 1:49 PM

As someone who ran IT for a mid-sized trucking company for several years, I think that this is probably not a bad idea, depending on how it is implemented. Many of the drivers are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but our company did train them extensively (mandatory sessions on a monthly basis), and after a while they get to be pretty good at following directions (or they get let go).

So, yes, for some of us it seems silly to tell somebody to padlock their HazMat loads (in actuality, you would lock it and use multiple serial-numbered seals to make sure that the lock wasn't tampered with or replaced), but some of these guys just don't make that leap on their own. They will do it, however, if trained properly.

Most of the sarcastic comments I see here remind me of the jackasses who would go around picking on people dumber / smaller / weaker / shyer than them back in high school. Hey, not everyone is bright, not everyone chooses to develop themselves intellectually. That doesn't mean they deserve to be made fun of by a bunch of people that think they're hot shit because they read a security blog (but haven't grown emotionally since Junior high).

Roy OwensDecember 8, 2005 1:57 PM

Similarly, the city council of Barstow, California, is talking about applying for DHS money to fund a school resource officer.

While needs exist everywhere, we are supposed to pay for them out of the appropriate budgets. Cost-shifting is supposed to be illegal, as is misappropriation.

If terrorists start a training camp on the Barstow High athletic field, the school resource officer might have some relevance to homeland security.

But funding a program for truckers? Out of every ten million unusual things our nation's truckers see, how many of them are going to be terrorist connected?

If the truckers could be helpful, pay for it out of a public safety budget, not out of domestic defense money.

(Incidentally, 'homeland security' is the English translation of Heimatsicherheit.)

Ari HeikkinenDecember 8, 2005 2:07 PM

So why they have to put "®" after that name everytime they mention it? Makes me feel like someon'e just trying to cash their share of all that "counterterrorism" money out there (although, you gotta admit it's easy money).

RSDecember 8, 2005 2:14 PM

I have to agree with the above post. Implementation is what matters. Much of the information on the Highway Watch® website seems like simple commonsense. A Call Center that can identify reporters, " Additionally, Highway Watch® training instructs all participants to use 911 for life threatening emergencies." Yes, 911 is good. But as usual, what will really determine the programs success or failure is:
-Level of training. (Remember Dale Gribble's bounty hunter course?) Will anyone flunk?
-Will the Call Center be robust enough to handle a simultaneous influx of calls? Will it bottle neck?
-Will it aid or impair the current 911 system?
-Will it be much better than a bunch of Truckers with CB radios? If not, will it cost much more?
-Will law enforcement appreciate the assistance? (Probably. Truckers have facilitated the apprehension of drivers trying to outrun the police.)

It does seem better than the cable guy peeping in my window because the postman told him I subscribe to Le Monde diplomatique!

ProbitasDecember 8, 2005 2:28 PM

I think it is an excellant idea, various posters' preconcieved notions about the intelligence of truckers notwithstanding. Like security professionals, despite a reputation to the contrary many truckers are intelligent and well trained. In addition, they have an excellent vantage point, they are frequently in communication with other truckers, and are already a valued part of the law enforcement network. (They routinely use CB radios to report impaired drivers) This initiative merely recognizes and legitimizes their contributions. It is precisely this kind of intelligence gathering which can help prevent future attacks which fail to follow the model of the most recent attack. While DHS is searching for pointy objects in luggage and checking flight schools for flight school trainees not interested in learning to land, theys guys may actually be heard when they detect and report something "hinky".

cdmillerDecember 8, 2005 2:49 PM

I would be happier if they simply trained truckers to drive courteously, allowed them to drive shorter shifts, got them using more alternative fuels, and stopped them from littering. I would think truckers should already be required to report accidents and unsafe road conditions to state authorities. Highway Watch looks to me like another attempt to get folks informing on their neighbors. Pass or follow a trucker and get pulled over and searched. Nice.

another_bruceDecember 8, 2005 4:09 PM

sounds like a good program for general highway safety. doesn't sound like a good program for anti-terrorism. truckers aren't trained in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. the police need probable cause to pull someone over. does following a truck for 5 or 10 miles constitute probable cause? if an innocent driver is pulled over and harassed, will he have the right to identify and sue the trucker?

another_bruceDecember 8, 2005 4:14 PM

@roy owens
you mentioned barstow. a long time ago i read an article about police in barstow running a make on every single license plate going through town. its strategic position between l.a. and vegas means criminals as well as just gamblers can't easily get around it; a small but significant number of the license plates turn out to be owned by wanted people.

RSDecember 8, 2005 4:22 PM

@ another_bruce
"does following a truck for 5 or 10 miles constitute probable cause?"

One might go so far as to presume that a sophisticated terrorist group might be able to work around this little, 'spot the tail' game by, oh maybe, using more than one vehicle.

LeoloDecember 8, 2005 4:53 PM

@antimedia

"Be suspicious of any vehicle with multiple occupants ..."

Because everyone knows that carpooling is anti-american.

antimediaDecember 8, 2005 5:24 PM

Zwack writes

I guess you haven't done much highway driving on some of the major non-interstate routes. US 26 is a fairly common truck route from the Pacific coast to Portland Oregon and then on down to Mount Hood, through Central Oregon and on to Boise. I-84 covers some of the same ground but sometimes one is open while the other is closed. Highway 26 is a single lane in each direction fairly frequently. In some places for well over five miles. The idea that a multiple occupant vehicle following you for any distance is full of hiijackers rather than, say, tourists is insane. US 101 through Oregon and Washington is also frequently single lane.

So, without holding your comments up to "sarcastic ridicule" I think that giving tips like "panic because someone is behind you" is counter productive.Setting aside the fact that you completely mischaracterized my remarks to make your "point", common sense should tell you that a trucker on your Hwy. 26 would be well aware that the road he was driving on was a two-lane road. Most truckers are at least that aware.

The point is to observe out-of-the-ordinary behavior, which any trucker who drove Hwy. 26 regularly would spot a long time before someone as unobservant as say, a poster who misses the point entirely.

Leolo writes

"Be suspicious of any vehicle with multiple occupants ..."

Because everyone knows that carpooling is anti-american.Gee, you've got a blog chock full of geniuses here, Bruce. Real perceptive folks.

antimediaDecember 8, 2005 5:39 PM

Zwack asks "Can I ask how many truck hijackings occur daily? Monthly? Annually? How many of those are done by ambushes? And how many are performed by terrorists?"

According to FBI statistics, truck hijackings dropped from a high of 6000 annually in 1989 to just 1000 in 2002/3.

This is most likely due to security measures such as GPS tracking that have recently become available for trucking firms. I'm not aware of any terrorist truck hijackings, but that doesn't mean they couldn't happen. Besides, trucks have been known to "disappear" for weeks. Usually the load has been off-loaded when they're found. Most truck hijackings that I'm aware of were professional criminals, often Mafia-related.

Trucks haul just about any commodity you can imagine, including nuclear waste, explosives, flammable liquids and extremely dangerous chemicals. The licensing requirements hold truckers responsible for understanding what their load is, what the dangers are and what roads they can and cannot drive on. But there is no security training or any sort of awareness programs to alert truckers to the fact that their load might be desireable to a criminal or terrorists, so this program fills a definite gap and should be applauded.

In case you're wondering, I drove commercially for three and one-half years and held a CDL with hazardous permits. I've hauled paint, and a number of other dangerous loads, both short and long haul.

If the trucks stopped, your grocery store would start running out of food in four days (assuming a panic didn't clean the shelves faster), and you would begin to starve (unless you have a garden or canned foods.) So don't make fun of truckers. They fill a vital link in the supply chain. (And no, I don't drive trucks now. I work in computer security.)

jammitDecember 8, 2005 6:48 PM

This probably won't work very well for truckers, but if you want to know if somebody is following you, make consecutive right hand turns around the same block and circle the block three times. If the guy is still behind you, he's either an attacker or undercover cop.

another_bruceDecember 9, 2005 4:00 AM

@antimedia
hey, i live in oregon. you come to my state in a truck and i'm behind you on the road. please enumerate all objectively determinable facts tending to show i'm a terrorist, as opposed to
lost
way horny and taking it in my own hands
driving in a random direction for fresh air
you confront me as a terrorist at your grave peril.

ColdDecember 9, 2005 7:39 AM

Maybe it's not a bad idea... At least maybe it will force terrorists to think twice before doing something when a "trained trucker" will be about. :))

kashmarekDecember 9, 2005 9:46 AM

"Usually we see terrorism as the justification for something that is ineffective and wasteful. Done right, this could be an example of terrorism being used as the justification for something that is smart and effective. "

It seems like terrorists would be the first to jump on participation in this program. That is, why hijack a truck when you can become a trained truck driver and drive the truck. Are we screening truck drivers the same way we screen pilots and airline passengers?

antimediaDecember 9, 2005 11:20 AM

another_bruce writes

"hey, i live in oregon. you come to my state in a truck and i'm behind you on the road. please enumerate all objectively determinable facts tending to show i'm a terrorist, as opposed to lost way horny and taking it in my own hands driving in a random direction for fresh air you confront me as a terrorist at your grave peril."

What peril? You can't even own a gun in Oregon, much less use it.

This may come as a shock to you, but truckers have communication gear radios, cell phones, GPS and satellite equipment) that allows them to report you following them without having to confront you. You'll be talking to the police, not to the trucker.

somebody writes

". .and the funny this is the fact that terrorism does not exist"

Tell that to the families of Nicholas Berg, Danny Perl, the 55 dead in Jordan, the thousands killed by suicide bombers in Iraq, the 241 Marines who died in Beirut, the 17 dead on the USS Cole, Leon Klinghoffer, the almost 3000 dead on 9/11, etc., etc., etc.

kashmarek writes

"It seems like terrorists would be the first to jump on participation in this program. That is, why hijack a truck when you can become a trained truck driver and drive the truck. Are we screening truck drivers the same way we screen pilots and airline passengers?"

Yes, we are, especially for hazardous material transport. If you read the story linked by a commenter, then you know that a truck driving training instructor alerted the FBI about a group of students that were suspicious, and they are now being investigated.

LarryDecember 9, 2005 11:58 AM

Antimedia said:
"What peril? You can't even own a gun in Oregon, much less use it."

OK, you've just outed yourself as a troll, that sentence is both inflammatory and wrong.

Although looking at your URL, if you hold the politics it expresses seriously, the supposition that you are a flaming idiot becomes much more tenable. The alternatives being that you associate with those politics for shock value, or that you hold them cynically.

In either case you seem to be participating in a denial of service attack on reasonable conversation, why is that?

WoodyDecember 9, 2005 12:28 PM

Here in cali, we actualy have a problem with to many people reporting accidents during commute hours. One accident can be seen by 100s or 1000s of cars, and the number of them that call can completely overwhelm the cellular 911 call centers. So after about a dozen reports or so, they block that cell. Not full blocked, but funnelled into a different queue. One where you might sit for 10 minutes on hold waiting.

Which is why I now tell people I know to NOT call an accident in via their cell phone unless they actually stop at the scene. Without stopping, you don't know enough information to make a really good size-up, anyway. Non-injury vs. injury, the number of vehicles/occupants involved, if the cars can be moved out of the roadway, etc. Information that helps the dispatchers properly prioritize the accidents for the responding fire/ems units. Also, when it comes to limited access roads, the EXACT location is critical. Wrong side of the higway, or just past/before an exit/entry ramp can cause the dispatched units to end up stuck in traffic too far behind the accident, or enter the roadway past the accident.

But that is where the new gps capabilities of phones helps a lot.

-woody
(volunteer firefighter)

jetDecember 9, 2005 9:56 PM

The ad I heard on the radio for this (while driving cross country) made it sound as if the training were an hour-long DVD you could watch. Maybe the DVD is just a teaser?

GotToBTruDecember 9, 2005 11:01 PM

Wow, two posts in one day....

I've been through the Highway Watch training, through my ham radio club. Much of it was pretty obvious, but practical can be obvious. You call in your observations to the national call center (after you call 911 if there are lives at stake), and they are supposed to notice, for instance, that 4 of the same kind of tanker truck have been stolen within a few days, or that somebody has been spotted with a camera outside of a refinery 2 days in a row. They will contact local safety or law enforcement if warranted. They also emphasised that communication will be two-way. You are supposed to be ready to answer further questions about the event, and they promise they will get back to you afterwards about what they found out.

The training is just an hour or so, Powerpoint slides and few videos. One of which is supposedly from Al Qaeda: a training video about delivering a car bomb against a first-responder to a manufactured accident.

another_bruceDecember 10, 2005 1:13 AM

@antimedia
you're way mixed up. most people here on the southern oregon coast own guns. that's why crime is so low here, except for dui's, domestic violence, meth labs and fish & game violations.

Olaf T. HairyDecember 12, 2005 4:39 AM

The training would be even more relevant and useful if it were to include basic first aid.

AnonymousMarch 21, 2007 8:32 PM

If someone ask you to park your truck inside a large building and go to sleep in it, this is also a problem.

Sean

ScottApril 15, 2007 6:09 AM

Commercial drivers are among the worst that I've encountered. The idea that they could detect safety concerns is ludicrous. I've been aggressively tailgated by 18-wheelers because they wanted to speed. I've seen trucks block roads because the driver didn't want to take the time to maneuver into the unloading area. Now people want to give their reports of suspicious activity more weight! Don't honk at a trucker, don't slow them down, and smile when they block traffic, or you may find yourself reported as a terrorist!

Truckers' agenda is delivering items on time. Having a reputation of causing trouble for people that slow them down, or upset them, makes accomplishing that agenda easier. Of course they will abuse the power. This is a very bad idea.

SKNovember 2, 2007 4:34 AM

@scott:

Please don't talk about things you know nothing about, namely the subject of driving. I'd venture for every one time you've been tailgated by a trucker who lost his cool you were tailgated, and tailgated others, on tens of thousands of occasions. Like most people, you took a short driving class at 16, promptly forgot everything you were taught, and have spent the last x number of years driving less than 30 miles a day and slowly replacing what little driving knowledge you were taught with a conglomeration of bad habits, and think you are "an above average driver" while racking up a ticket a year and probably an at fault accident every other year.

I drive 600 to 800 miles a day, 320 days a year, and have for six years now. To put this in perspective, I have already driven twice as many miles as you will IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE, assuming you're still driving at age 70. I have in that million miles or so received two speeding tickets and had two at fault accidents, both of which were while backing into tight docks and scratching the truck next to me, total damage less than $100.

I guarantee you my driving record is better than 99.9% of the public, per mile driven, and yet it's not very impressive amongst truck drivers, where there are many who have driven one or two million miles accident free, and some old timers who have done five million.

In only 2 out of every 10 accidents involving a car and a big rig is the truck driver found to be responsible. One study here: http://www.umtri.umich.edu/content/UMTRI_2002_31.pdf (page 14). Other studies from the NTSB and USDOT show similar results.

So, just... shush... you'll understand when you're older, assuming you live to be 150.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..