The Terrorist Risk of Food Trucks

This is idiotic:

Public Intelligence recently posted a Powerpoint presentation from the NYC fire department (FDNY) discussing the unique safety issues mobile food trucks present. Along with some actual concerns (many food trucks use propane and/or gasoline-powered generators to cook; some *gasp* aren’t properly licensed food vendors), the presenter decided to toss in some DHS speculation on yet another way terrorists might be killing us in the near future.

The rest of the article explains why the DHS believes we should be terrified of food trucks. And then it says:

The DHS’ unfocused “terrorvision” continues to see a threat in every situation and the department seems to be busying itself crafting a response to every conceivable “threat.” The problem with this “method” is that it turns any slight variation of “everyday activity” into something suspicious. The number of “terrorist implications” grows exponentially while the number of solutions remains the same. This Powerpoint is another example of good, old-fashioned fear mongering, utilizing public servants to spread the message.

Hear hear.

Someone needs to do something; the DHS is out of control.

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 6:45 AM40 Comments


chuckb November 15, 2012 7:00 AM

The PowerPoint has one line in it about “DHS document”. By any actual logic your post should have read “FDNY is out of Control”

Judith November 15, 2012 7:39 AM

I am deeply concerned about global warming and our governments inability to take the radical steps needed to combat it. This post makes me think we could enlist DHS to this cause, because, at some level ALL enclosed vehicles are a terrorist threat. Even a little Hyundai can be car bomb. We should ban most cars & trucks – all potential terrorist threats – forcing everyone to ride bikes and use public transit. We’ll never do this to be green … but maybe we’ll do it in the name of counterterrorist…

Count0 November 15, 2012 7:46 AM

This is also another prime example of why fusion centers just need to be shut down or at least scaled way back.

Let's all take a deep breath November 15, 2012 7:58 AM

Very funny article, but let’s consider the purpose of the presentation, keeping first responders cognizant of potential threats. Frankly I do want cops and other FR’s to be smart enough, and have the situation awareness to recognize a well-organized attack unfolding. Not everyone is smart enough to recognize as a threat something taken for granted, and must have this spelled out for them.

Josh S November 15, 2012 8:06 AM

@Let’s all take a deep breath: “the purpose…keeping first responders cognizant of potential threats.”

The problem is, EVERYTHING is a potential threat. The guy walking down the street with a backpack (could be a ‘suitcase nuke’!), the tourist with his camera (could be scoping out high-impact targets!), the car with the loud muffler (could be a junk car that the terrorists are using to be inconspicuous while carting around a bomb!) etc etc etc. At some point, it stops being effective. If EVERYTHING is a high-potential threat, then there’s no way to effectively target/allocate resources.

Much better to highlight the more likely/legitimate sources of threats, focus on the response, and put resources into intelligence, rather than turn every far-fetched avenue of possible threatening activity into a ‘likely’ scenario that’s required to be front-of-mind. There’s only so much front-of-mind real estate–why fill it with “threatening food trucks”?

Mike Martin November 15, 2012 8:39 AM

This is a good example of what Frederick the Great meant when he said, “He who defends everything defends nothing”. Although I think he might have said it in German…

Matt November 15, 2012 8:46 AM

Firsat responders, FDNY, should already be aware of the potential dangers associated with food trucks and how to counter them if one should catch fire or blow up. Common sense, not counter-terrorism.

Possibly the biggest threat from food trucks, other than rolling bombs, is their ubiquitous nature. One could easily be used as a listening post, for observation etc. In some areas they are every day fixtures that don’t get a second glance. It is not unsual to see one allowed inside a “secure” perimiter for the convenience of customers.

Frank Wilhoit November 15, 2012 8:59 AM

“The problem with this ‘method’ is that it turns any slight variation of ‘everyday activity’ into something suspicious.”

Bad enough as stated, but the real problem is that, unavoidably, it also makes “everyday activity” itself suspicious.

(“Wer alles schuetzt, schuetzt nichts” ? Sounds legit….)

bcs November 15, 2012 9:08 AM

If I had more time, I’d write an ironic diatribe calling for a jihad for against the DHS that consists of attacking them… by just ignoring them.

No One November 15, 2012 9:48 AM

Terrorist threat: Insert yourself into the DHS hierarchy. Enact policies that increase fear, uncertainty, and doubt among the American populace. Reap your sweet, sweet reward of constant terror.

Proper response according to DHS: Better checkpoints that include more ineffectual devices to prevent entry to these terrorists.

Lawrence November 15, 2012 9:57 AM

Is it possible that the FDNY is just trying to get a little extra funding for their normal activities? It is not a new thing for some public agencies to try to boost their funding by tying into the issue of the day. Remember the sno-cone machines of safety?

Adrian Leverkühn November 15, 2012 10:05 AM

@Mike Martin, Frank Wilhoit:
Fairly OT but Frederick actually wrote it in French. He is said to have detested the german language and to have spoken it “only like a coachman”. Google for “qui veut défendre tout ne défendra rien”, you’ll find the source.

onearmedspartan November 15, 2012 10:10 AM

They’re WAY late if they’re just catching on to this. NYC street food vendors already poison people with their falafel, knishes, and hot dogs. Can you believe their slogan? “Fear & sausage are everywhere. Can you smell it?”

Do they realize terrorists can be employed at McDonalds and do the same? Or work at a distribution plant and wreak more havok.

I wonder if the tools at the DHS believe their own stupidity.

Snarki, child of Loki November 15, 2012 10:31 AM

Terrorists have infiltrated airline caterers, introducing bioagents that sickened thousands.

Nobody noticed.

Johnston November 15, 2012 10:50 AM

One of the “terrorist targets” identified by my state government was a donut shop. This sort of news is regularly publicized but nothing is done about it. If it were another country, we would point and laugh at those backward, stupid people without a future.

Lisa November 15, 2012 11:20 AM

Unhealthy fast food is a legitimate terrorist concern.

Terrorists have been working behind the scenes for decades to promote unhealthy fast food from places like McDonalds, KFC, PizzaHut, etc. The fast food trucks are a more recent plan to make sure that this bad food can be easily distributed to more locations.

So far their terror plan to fatten and kill of millions of Americas is working perfectly.

Maybe now that DHS is investigating this, means that there might be hope that proper resources can be spent to reduce this threat.

Isaac Rabinovitch November 15, 2012 1:20 PM

Of all the pointless Security Theater coming out of 9/11, the creation of DHS easily tops the list.

Al Hoffman November 15, 2012 3:20 PM

Yeah, you laugh now, but wait till a terrorist network buys a food truck, serves hundreds of office workers bad burritos (each containing a mini-detonator) and sends them back to their cubicles with their colons bubbling. Picture the panic as Mad Abdul presses the send button on his cellphone a few hours later and multiple floors of the MegaGloboSuperAmalgamatedWorldCorp Tower rain shattered glass and flaming office debris down onto the passersby below. Personally, I’m GLAD that our designated protectors are apparently getting together at the Brainstorming Bong every morning. Is has occurred to me, though, that we could be SAFER STILL if we taxpayers could pony up a couple thousand hits of pure Sandoz for them. Then they could ferret out the REAL threats.

John November 15, 2012 5:02 PM

Believe it or not, this also came up in front of the Houston city council recently – trucks with propane tanks are not allowed in downtown Houston, in case they blow up something. This issue was raised by some of our less bright councilors – serving as a nice cover for lobbying from brick and mortar restauranteurs concerned about competition.

Olaf November 15, 2012 6:01 PM

Does someone still remember the film “1941”? That colonel or whatever he was out in the fields who was so paranoid he saw attacking Japanese behind every vegetable and constantly asked for backup and air support? That is what I have to think of each time I read something like the above article.

Figureitout November 16, 2012 12:51 AM

I think every comment has either been sarcastic or ridiculing; this seems to be the path to sanity. First off, people should know the quality of food you get w/ a food truck (uh hmm, not ‘A’-grade). Having worked at a grocery store, you should all be concerned about what you’re about to eat; not b/c of “terrorists”, b/c of unsanitary/LAZY practices! My idea of everyone having a “microfarm” using your human care and water, sunlight, and maybe fertilizer; excellent quality can be achieved.

Me November 16, 2012 9:34 AM

I read this as “Unlicensed food carts are a fire hazard.”

“Fred, that’s great, but it just doesn’t grab the attention we will need.”

“Unlicensed food carts could be terrorists! (or fire hazards).”

“Thanks Fred, that is perfect.”

Alan Kaminsky November 16, 2012 10:56 AM

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently rammed through legislation banning large soft drink servings, as a public health measure. Everybody howled and complained about the nanny state. Bloomberg should have touted it as a counterterrorist measure, to foil all the terrorist soft drink vendors who are causing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Then everyone would have applauded and rejoiced that the state was keeping us secure.

chris l November 16, 2012 11:04 AM

I’ve been told that terrorist risk is also the argument that Los Angeles uses against shared-use bicycle lockers (coin or card operated by any walk-up user, rather than assigned to a single renter for a year). They’re somehow worried that someone could put a bomb in one. Never mind that you could park a car bomb just about anywhere in LA without the hassle and suspicious activity of having to move a bunch of suspicious stuff around in view of bystanders.

MB November 16, 2012 11:11 AM

Terrorists might use PowerPoint. They could have breifings, timelines, maps, photos, track action items and risks, budgets, points of contact, funny little comic strips. If you’ve seen any of that recently, say something.

NobodySpecial November 16, 2012 11:31 AM

The Fire Dept need to be really careful about becoming part of the anti-terrorism business.

It’s very easy for the fire dept to be seen as part of the police/security services/army – they have flashing lights, uniforms and are on the police side.

Pretty soon they become legitimate targets in some communities and it’s a hard enough job already without needing an armed escort to put out a fire.

Matt Shirila November 16, 2012 1:47 PM

I can see it now. High pressure. On site law enforcement has good intel on a terrorist threat. Hot summer day. Everyone tense. Just then a cop in the street crime unit yells LUNCHTRUCK! EVERYONE DOWN!

Andy November 16, 2012 3:08 PM

Use DHS’s budget to update our dilapidated infrastructure instead. Why look for terrorists when the weather report will do?

picaroon November 19, 2012 8:49 PM

Matt: Death by PowerPoint, anyone who has struggled to stay awake through a three hour meeting recognizes this as a credible threat…

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