How hauliers can boost security to prevent terrorist access


It is any operator’s worst nightmare; finding out one of its vehicles has been involved in a terrorist attack.

The unfortunate truth is there has been a wave of recent incidents where terrorists have hijacked vehicles – or legally hired a vehicle – to use as a weapon against pedestrians. Trucks and vans are especially deadly due to their size, and are easily attainable through vehicle hire companies.

To protect their reputations as well as the lives of others, it is important truck operators do everything they can to reduce the risk of their vehicles being involved.

According to Jonathon Backhouse of specialist road transport law firm Backhouse Jones, it is time for hauliers to act and improve their security systems.

“We’ve got to think about our ordinary everyday activities from the perspective of a terrorist,” he told Backhouse Jones’s Protect and Prepare seminar in September. “It’s a new – and very real – risk we’ve all seen happen, but we’ve got to understand we might be next.”

Informing drivers

He suggested a good starting point is with those who are directly involved with the vehicles themselves; the drivers. Care should be taken to educate drivers about the importance of locking vehicles when they are not in use, and encourage a culture where drivers secure the trucks they drive as if they were their own property.

He said: “If you had a Ferrari and you were driving into a town you didn’t know, and you pulled up on a backstreet and a boy said ‘give me a fiver and I’ll mind your car’, would you leave the doors open with the keys in the ignition? You would perceive an obvious risk.

“A lot of drivers don’t lock their vehicles. And if you look around the vehicle sometimes you will find the keys there, often under the flap where the driver sits so it’s very easy for drivers to change over.”

Operators should carry out spot checks on vehicles to make sure they are locked, and keys are kept away from vehicles when not in use.

Backhouse also recommended hauliers make use of vehicle trackers and familiarise themselves with the technology’s features. Some tracking devices have unusual activity alarms that alert transport managers if a driver is going off-route or stopping at an unusual destination.

He said vehicle tracking had alerted the operator of the truck used in the Berlin attack last year that it was not where it should have been. “Unfortunately, they trusted that the driver, who was a friend or a relative, was doing something for themselves. They might have been aware that there was a problem but they persuaded themselves it was okay.”

Operators are encouraged to ask for references when employing a driver. Particular care should be taken if a driver unknown to the company approaches it for a job out of the blue. “Keep records and monitor behaviour, because if something happens, people are going to be asking questions.

“If you use an agency, what is its recruitment process like? And if you’re hiring a vehicle out, who are you hiring it to?” he said.


Lock on trailer

What to do

A government security adviser from the UK Government’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) was at the seminar, and told operators that personnel security is one of the biggest issues for the transport industry.

“Not all staff are on your side,” said the adviser, referring to CPNI work on mitigating insider threats. “Humans make mistakes, so relying on one layer of security can increase vulnerability.”

He said drivers or security guards could potentially be placed under duress by a terrorist in order to gain entry to a vehicle or premises.

Sensitive documents that may help terrorists with their plans, such as site access information, should also be stored and destroyed in a secure manner.

The detective inspector representing the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, said operators should prepare an emergency response plan in the event of an incident.

He said: “Most people haven’t considered terrorism in their emergency response plans. It’s important to establish a chain of command and overall control of a situation if something does happen.”

Hauliers should establish the whereabouts of their vehicles and drivers if they hear there has been an attack in an area they are operating in or delivering into.

What to do if you’re in charge

If a haulier has reason to believe its vehicle has been involved in terrorist activity, it should contact the police immediately. It is also important not to jump to conclusions about the staff involved, as they could be a victim, witness or a suspect.

Backhouse said: “If an incident does happen at your organisation, the security services will want to tell you what you can and can’t say. Customers will have to come second to information security. You’re going to be concerned about brand association, and your customers will also be concerned for the security of their products and disruption to service.”

Security services are likely to require company documentation and hard drives when investigating the incident. Operators should not expect to get their truck back soon afterwards, or even at all, and may find it difficult to get insured.

“You may therefore get into financial difficulties,” Backhouse said. “You should inform the traffic commissioner rather than waiting for them to get it second-hand and then call you in.”

Despite the warnings, operators were reminded that vehicle hijacks are rare.

“Forewarned is forearmed. It’s unlikely to happen, but it might, so be prepared,” said Backhouse.