New TRB report addresses security, calls for tank truck technical initiatives

Aug. 1, 2002
A NEW report from the Transportation Research Board addresses transportation security issues and calls for technical initiatives for tank trucks and tank

A NEW report from the Transportation Research Board addresses transportation security issues and calls for technical initiatives for tank trucks and tank containers.

At the same time, the report points out that implementing security initiatives will be expensive. Indeed, providing economic incentives for transportation users and operators to build security into their operations will be critical; simply urging greater security consciousness will not be enough, nor will it have lasting effect in such a competitive and cost-sensitive sector.

Following is information taken from the report:

Financial support isn't the only consideration for security implementation. Transportation operations today are fundamentally different from what they were 20 years ago when hub-and-spoke systems, just-in-time logistics, and intermodal container operations were in their infancy. Now, nearly all modes of transportation have experienced sharp increases in traffic volumes and changes in their methods of providing services.

In recent years, these transport modes have increased their efficiency to the point where just-in-time inventorying and manufacturing are commonplace. The design of the security systems themselves must relate closely to the characteristics and functions of the transportation systems they are intended to defend. Technologies and methods developed for one transportation environment that are modified and applied in an incidental manner to another may yield little more than a patchwork regime.

Moreover, an understanding of the operations and economics of transportation systems is crucial for finding ways to integrate security with other transportation system objectives. For example, shippers and other commercial users of transportation may be willing to accept the outlays for blast-resistant containers, electronic tamperproof seals, and real-time recording of shipment manifests, if they facilitate the general movement of cargo and better secure it against theft and loss.

Transport vehicles and containers can be tempting weapons in and of themselves, as most vehicles are powered by flammable fuels and carry bulk shipments of hazardous materials. By their very nature, they are highly mobile and thus capable of being used to access a range of targets quickly. And they are ubiquitous, moving unnoticed within industrial locations and major population centers and across borders.

Their mobility, range, and omnipresence make transportation vehicles a ready means of delivering terrorist weapons, from conventional explosives to unconventional chemical, biological, and radiological agents.

In addition, most of the nation's highway infrastructure is unguarded and sometimes unattended. Distributed over the networks are millions of vehicles and containers, which are repeatedly moved from one location to another, complicating the task of monitoring, safeguarding, and controlling them.

In more open transportation systems, where it can be difficult to identify and track high-risk traffic, information and communications tools may offer a means to create a virtual closed system. Large trucks, for instance, may be required to have an identifier tag affixed to the windshield and scanned at critical points along the highway. The tracking information could be used to ensure that higher-risk trucks — that is, those without tag identifiers or with unusual routings — are scrutinized more carefully at border crossings, tunnels, and major bridges down the road.

As an added layer of deterrence and protection, trucks may be subjected to random checks of the validity of the tag, as well as the legality of the driver, vehicle, and cargo.

New security approaches are being considered for marine shipping containers, particularly the possibility of moving inspections out from the US ports of entry and farther down the logistics chain. Well-conceived security systems must be put in place soon, and research and development are essential for improving these systems.

However, there are conflicts that are likely to arrive from additional security requirements related to social issues, such as biometric identification cards and cargo-screening devices. Concerns that may constrain or even preclude implementation must be appreciated early on, before significant resources are devoted to furthering impractical or undesirable concepts.

The report calls for designing, testing, and installing coherent layered security systems for all transportation modes, particularly shipping containers and vehicles that contain large quantities of toxic or flammable materials. The Department of Transportation (DOT), the individual modal agencies, and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center offer important resources for systems-level research and for technology development. The new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can help guide their investments to better leverage the transportation sector's own research and development investments, and ensure their strong security relevance. By making the needs and parameters of transportation-security systems more widely known, especially to the much larger research and development community and sponsoring agencies in government, TSA can help to identify and shape the efforts that are most promising and relevant.

Because the identification of appropriate security systems is essential to guiding related technology development and deployment, TSA should take the lead in devising and evaluating a set of promising security system concepts for each transportation mode. The diverse operators, users, and overseers in the transportation sector must ultimately deploy and operate the security systems; however, their disparate venues and interests can hinder cooperation in the development of alternative system concepts. TSA, through the recommended strategic research and planning office, is particularly well placed to encourage and orchestrate such cooperation.

By working with transportation system owners, operators, and users in exploring alternative security concepts, TSA will be better able to identify opportunities for conjoining security with other objectives, such as improving shipment tracking. Such multiuse, multibenefit systems have a greater chance of being adopted, maintained, and improved.