Terrorist Attack Brings New Challenges for Tank Truck Industry

Sept. 16, 2001
In coming days, weeks, and months, tank truck carriers will be confronted by a number of issues arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks that destroyed

In coming days, weeks, and months, tank truck carriers will be confronted by a number of issues arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and severely damaged the Pentagon in Washington DC. Cliff Harvison, president of National Tank Truck Carriers, reviewed with Modern Bulk Transporter some of the problems and challenges that lie ahead.

Three key problems confronted tank truck carriers in the first 48 hours following the tragedy. First, the destruction in New York City and its impact on the surrounding area created huge congestion points in the Northeast Corridor. Second, traffic was slowed to a crawl over our international borders, especially the one with Canada, and this is a problem that could remain for quite some time. Third, panic buying of gasoline and diesel caused dramatic drops in inventory and the need to resupply those inventories on an expedited basis.

“Of these three elements, I expect the situation at the borders to have the most lasting effect,” Harvison said. “Carriers can and will develop new routings to serve New York and New England. Nationwide petroleum supplies are adequate, and the panic buying will subside. However, the delays at the border will be with us quite some time.”

Further down the road, the insurance crisis will worsen, because underwriters at both the primary and excess levels are taking a tremendous hit as a result of the World Trade Center disaster. Claims will be measured in the scores of billions of dollars.

“One of the fundamental principles of insurance underwriting is that you spread the risk of claims among all policyholders,” Harvison said. “Tank truck carriers are dependent on the insurance sector, and we are a high-profile/high-risk client. I think those factors paint a pretty good picture of what is in store for the tank truck industry.”

Productivity is almost certain to be reduced for some time to come due to reroutings and delays. Vehicle and driver productivity will fall, which will negatively impact carrier bottom lines. Increased security is one reason for the productivity drop. Harvison says he anticipates that shippers will impose new security-based restrictions at both loading and unloading sites. Additionally, placarded vehicles are very likely to be stopped and inspected more frequently by state and local law enforcement officials.

Harvison doesn’t believe that the tank truck industry faces a direct terrorist threat, but he does offer a reminder that tank trucks carry many products—flammables, gases, and poisons—that could cause havoc if deliberately released in a populated area. Fleets need to keep that in mind when conducting risk assessments of their operations.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.