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Truckers, Toll Takers, Bus Drivers Recruited For Homeland Security
Truckers, toll takers, road crews and bus drivers are being recruited for homeland security.
They'll be trained as part of Highway Watch to keep their eyes open for anything from missing trailer loads to suspicious activity to people taking photos of strategic points of infrastructure.
The goal in Pennsylvania is to have 14,000 highway professionals watching for suspicious activity starting in the spring, according to the Transportation Security Administration, American Trucking Association and Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.
Word of the program, though, hasn't reached many area folks who work the roads. But area Teamsters union leaders love the idea.
Teamsters used to be the "knights of the road,'' so it makes sense they would be involved in the program, Local 830 Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Grace said from his Northeast Philadelphia office.
"I think it is something we could pass along to a lot of drivers," Teamsters Local 107 Vice President Tony Fransco said at his union headquarters across the street from Local 830.
"Drivers are out there on the roads and highways. It's something that makes sense 'cause they are driving down the road and their eyes are on the road and their surroundings,'' he said.
While Pennsylvania truckers aren't yet in the loop, some of their comrades in New Jersey are. So is the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
Commission spokeswoman Linda Spalinski said one staff member already is certified as a trainer for the program and a second is going through the seminars. Spalinski said the commission hopes to have all of its toll collectors and maintenance personnel trained in the Highway Watch program.
Jim Daulerio, who lives in Bristol Township and is trucking safety manager at Jevic Transportation in New Jersey, said his company is involved in Highway Watch through the New Jersey Motor Truck Association. He compared the program to a town watch.
"It's like when they're out there patrolling the streets [with town watch]," Daulerio said. "Well, [drivers] are out on the highway doing the same thing.
"With 3 million drivers out there and two eyes each, that's 6 million eyes out there watching what's going on,'' he said.
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said he's heard about the program, but the public transit company hasn't been invited to join in. SEPTA, he said, already has safety programs in place.
"Never before have our employees been as aware as they are [since Sept. 11, 2001]," Maloney said. "It's not even something we have to remind them of; it's a cultural change.
"We are continually on the alert, continually training, continually learning new tactics and continually in communication with our employees and our customers,'' he added.
Highway Watch began in 1998 as a safety program but turned to national security after Sept. 11, 2001.
The TSA and ATA have joined forces to make it work. The TSA will fund the program with $19.3 million, and the ATA will take over administering it. Trucking associations in all 50 states will handle the training, according to Robert Palmer, national spokesman for Highway Watch.
Janine Valle, vice president for the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said training in the state, which has more than 400,000 professional truck drivers, is progressing at a satisfactory rate and is expanding into the southeastern part. The plan is to certify trainers, who will then train drivers, toll collectors, highway maintenance personnel and others.
The training, according to Valle, focuses on recognizing potential problems.
"We want [transportation professionals] to become the eyes and ears [of homeland security] out on the highways," she said. "We want them to know how to respond if they become a target of terrorism or how to communicate if they see something."
They'll learn how to share valuable intelligence with federal agencies and industry stakeholders so they can quickly move to stop any terrorist action. Once trained, each driver receives a specific identification number and is given a toll-free hot line number to use to report suspicious activity or safety concerns.
An operator at the Highway Watch Call Center then routes the call to the appropriate law enforcement authorities in that area.
Valle stressed that the program does not profile individuals but situations.
"If a truck driver sees another driver slow down at the beginning of a bridge, stop and put down a package and then take off, that's something suspicious we want them to report," she said.
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