Events of 9/11 altered many truckers’ lives and prompted numerous changes in the trucking industry
Where were you on 9/11?
Florida-based owner-operator Tim Philmon was sitting in his 2001 Mack Vision at a shipper near the Miami airport. He and several other drivers he knew were waiting to load when they heard the first plane had flown into the World Trade Center’s North Tower that morning.
“One of the guys had a TV in his truck,” Philmon says, “and we were watching, trying to figure out what was going on,” when the second plane flew into the South Tower. Soon, Philmon noticed a dearth of planes in the sky.
In Dallas, then-Prime-leased owner-operator Mike Crawford noticed the empty skies, too, during a pick-up of shingles. “The planes were going over to Love Field in Dallas and, all of a sudden, there were no planes. I got loaded and got out of there and was going to stop in Ana, Texas, at the Love’s to get some fuel.”
Twenty miles from the stop, Crawford received a call from his wife, who was in tears. “She wanted to know where I was, what I was doing. ‘Be careful, be careful,’ she said, then telling him what had happened. “I said, ‘Honey, they aren’t going to blow up a load of shingles.’”
When Crawford, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, saw the Pentagon had also been hit, he thought about his Army nephew, who worked at the facility.
Bettina Cameron, a team driver with her husband, Brian, for Quest Global, was hauling team for Covenant Transport at the time. They had delivered in Long Island on Sept. 10 and were dispatched to Milton, Pa., to load the next morning. “Our dispatcher woke us up,” Cameron says, “wanting to know if we heard the news.” They watched the South Tower being hit.
Perkins Specialized-leased owner-operator Dick McCorkle, meanwhile, was stuck in a warehouse in Manhattan, backed into a shipping facility at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue “when the lights went out,” he says. “They used emergency lighting to open the door and let me out, but there was nowhere for me to go” — 42nd Street was completely shut off; traffic lights weren’t working. “All emergency units (including all police and fire departments) were headed to Lower Manhattan.
“People approached my truck multiple times to see if I could get any information on my radio, but at this point even my CB was useless,” he says. “Cell phones were down. I could barely talk to the people across the street.”
At the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Truckers News takes stock of how the event changed the industry, from camaraderie among drivers to regulations and business, for better and worse.
The 9/11 attacks brought the country together at a time of waning national coherence. “I think it was so good to see the flags and the camaraderie as we all pulled together,” Cameron says. “As time has gone by, though, we’re sort of losing that again. We need to remind ourselves that we’re all Americans; we’re all in the same boat.”
Crawford believes driver camaraderie remains better than it was before the attacks, but more importantly, drivers are more committed to preventing criminal activity on the road. “There’s an awareness now of guys just out there watching,” he says, referencing the Washington, D.C., sniper, who murdered 10 people over a three-week span a year after 9/11. Ron Lantz, one of the truck drivers who aided police in apprehending John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo at a Maryland rest area, was “paying attention,” says Crawford, just as his driver compatriots continue to do today. “Guys are listening — when the media puts out a call for somebody, they’ve got our attention — not just for terrorist activity, but for any criminal activity.”
Walt Fountain, director of enterprise security at Schneider National, says training and communications have improved following 9/11. “We work diligently to make sure we have a good flow of information to our drivers and receive good information from them,” he says. “Drivers have stayed vigilant and are not afraid to call 9-1-1, look for anomalies and regularly inspect their truck and trailer. The same tools that can prevent cargo theft are also used to prevent terrorism.”
Official recognition of drivers’ post-9/11 on-highway awareness led to programs offering further training in crime prevention, such as the First Observer initiative (www.firstobserver.com) with a single hotline number for on-highway watchers to report suspicious activity. Bill Arrington, general manager for the motor carrier division of the Transportation Security Administration, estimates truckers make 50 percent of the calls under the program, which replaced the Highway Watch program that was launched after 9/11. He says awareness is increasing among all transportation workers, including truckers and bus drivers.
Philmon contends that the 9/11 attacks, perpetrated by individuals living freely and in large part legally within the United States, eroded camaraderie as drivers became suspicious of one another. “You used to run around in groups, but everybody stays more to themselves today,” he says. “You don’t know who you’re talking to on the CB radio. You read about guys getting killed due to lack of parking — you have to be very careful who you talk to.”
But Cameron contends that heightened awareness post-9/11 means “people are more cautious,” she says, “but that’s to me where the camaraderie comes in. If I see somebody messing around with someone else’s truck, I’m more likely to say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ You’re more likely to look out for the next guy.”
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says some shippers and receivers “are more aware and following more specific procedures to make certain security is adhered to and limiting access to their facilities. At others, drivers tell us, nothing has changed.”
Freight: Some win, some lose
Cameron and her husband, Brian, spent a year and a half post-9/11 hauling in a new niche, military freight, leased to Covenant Transport. It was a lucky post, in that demand for team haulers with spotless backgrounds to run for the Department of Defense soared after the attacks put the country on a war footing. On 9/11, after the Camerons had talked to their dispatcher and had seen what happened, they received another call from the office: “They needed to know if we could get clearance to haul military hauls from one undisclosed location to another,” she says.
They were already hauling high-value freight that required background checks, so “we told them we figured we could get background clearance,” Cameron says. “We took our load that morning on to Portland, and when we got there they told us our clearance had gone through. For that next year, you’d go to a base and people would meet you and cloud out your side windows — sometimes they’d leave you in your truck, sometimes they’d take your truck, unload or load it, and bring it back to you.”
The Camerons were busy through the recession that grabbed the national economy after 9/11, well into 2003. It wasn’t the same for everyone, though. McCorkle, while he doesn’t recall struggling for freight following 9/11, saw his bread and butter hauls, into and out of New York City hauling trade show freight, dry up quickly. “Business within New York City is just not there anymore, for me,” he says. “9/11 changed everything out on the East Coast. Business moved out of New York, out of New Jersey; well inland.”
Avoiding cities became more of a priority for McCorkle, he says, after his experience in New York that day. “My nerves were pretty well shot there for a while.”
One group impacted by the 9/11 aftermath is haulers of air freight, Fountain says. “You look at the screening, the control over drivers selected to move that freight and the training and background checks they’re required to have — clearly that has been driven a lot by 9/11 and the concern over terrorism in our country and targeting of air cargo and passenger systems.” Spencer adds that one OOIDA member says he has taken specialized training to handle air freight authorized by the Department of Homeland Security.
Operational problems since 9/11 have come into play as cities around the country require trucks take bypass routes around their towns, adding costs for carriers and drivers in miles. From New York City itself to the 75-mile diversion around the Hoover Dam before the truck bypass bridge was finished just last year, mandatory truck diversions likely contributed to the shifting pay landscape late in the decade as carriers competed more fiercely for drivers, offering practical-miles pay packages to more accurately reflect actual miles driven.
Tractor-trailers have been used as instruments of terror in other countries. In the United States, box trucks packed with explosives were used in the 1990s Oklahoma City bombing as well as the World Trade Center bombing.
Asked about how 9/11 changed trucking, Jay Thompson, president of Transportation Business Associates and longtime trucking industry participant, recalls the lone instance of use of a tractor-trailer as a weapon of attempted mass slaughter, when a “refrigerated truck was rammed into a California government office in January 2001. That has been the only deal where a commercial truck was used as a tool of mass destruction, although only the driver was killed.”
“Truckers are looked at with hard scrutiny,” Philmon says. “It changed from that day forward. You’re not as free as you were out here prior to 9/11.”
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential emerged from the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 that was started in 2007 and fully implemented in 2009. It aims to identify persons such as truckers who require access to maritime facilities, such as ports. The program requires a background check and tamper-proof identification card that includes the holder’s fingerprints.
The program has its critics. A Government Accountability Office report claimed the program had poor internal controls and oversight during a 2007-10 examination. A TSA official says the GAO “found that these weaknesses could have contributed to the breach of facilities that occurred during GAO’s covert testing.”
From the cardholder’s standpoint, the proliferation of security programs by individual ports, shippers and other organizations requiring background checks, fingerprints and photo ID is redundant and “fraught with waste and expense for drivers,” Spencer says. “Congress has yet to mandate a system of background checks for drivers that makes sense.”
For example, hazardous materials haulers have faced increased post-9/11 scrutiny, according to John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers. “Prior to 9/11, hazmat [licensing] was a knowledge test,” he says. “All of a sudden the hazmat knowledge test became a character test. Now you have to supply the same information more than once if you want a TWIC to go into certain areas. It’s increased the hassle factor.”
Getting trucks, drivers and freight into the country for companies in our border nations north and south — and getting drivers back into the country from the north — has been impacted by the heightened sense of security. “The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism,” an effort by the United States and international partner companies and nations to further secure the supply chain from terrorist infiltration, “came about from a total tightening of the border post-9/11,” Thompson says. As incoming traffic slowed dramatically due to checks by agents of multiple agencies, from “Customs and Border Protection to the DOT to even USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency,” he adds, the C-TPAT was launched and promoted as a way for the shipping and carrier communities to achieve quicker access to the U.S. interior by undergoing verification and inspection procedures all along every point of their supply chain by U.S. agents.
That program, too, says Thompson, has come under criticism as an initiative that has realized little of its potential. “The vast majority of freight across the border is not C-TPAT freight,” Thompson says.
Another program that emerged after 9/11 was the Highway Watch initiative to encourage truckers and others to report on-road suspicious activity. Last year, the program was replaced by the First Observer program, with a new manager.
While Highway Watch was supported by carriers and their organizations, First Observer has the backing of the Teamsters Union and OOIDA. “Now, First Observer could be very effective. However, you’re not going to find a lot of trucking industry companies getting involved [because of concerns over Teamsters’ gaining access to driver information],” Conley says. Arrington asserts, however, Teamsters won’t have access to information about truckers making First Observer calls.
Fountain says that though usage of security technology such as GPS tracking has increased in the past decade, he doesn’t link it specifically to 9/11. “Obviously, 9/11 did have an impact on trucking, but a whole lot more has happened in recognition of the value in taking security precautions and the value of new technology in operations,” he says.
Where are they now?
Devastation changes driver
Brian Wilson, a regional driver for heavy haul specialist Trans American Trucking in South Plainfield, N.J., was featured in the lead photo of Truckers News’ 9/11 coverage published in the November 2001 issue, then describing ground zero as “a war zone.”
He says General Electric was “coming into our yard pretty much right after the towers fell,” asking the company to deliver transformers and other electrical equipment into the city to help restore the city’s power grid and other infrastructure. For about two and a half weeks, he says, he was hauling loads steadily into the city.
“I’m glad I was there,” Wilson says 10 years later. “It made me a different person, seeing the devastation and destruction. It changed my life. I do things differently now. I wish there was more I could have done to save lives, but unfortunately I don’t think there’s anything anybody could have done.”
Today, Wilson is still doing heavy haul projects for Trans American. The Edison, N.J., resident says he hauls 200- to 300-thousand-pound loads in the Northeast.
Where are they now?
Crane hauler moves forward
Heavy hauler Tim Shipe hauled pieces of both the 1,000-ton and 750-ton cranes used to clean up debris at ground zero just a week after the attacks. Truckers News featured Shipe in its November 2001 9/11 coverage, when he said, “We’ve been sitting here for days while they fight over where to put [the cranes].”
Ten years later, Shipe says making runs to ground zero is something “I’ll never forget. It was just ungodly. To look and see that much devastation had been done by two planes, you just stood there in awe because you couldn’t believe how much devastation was done that quick.”
Shipe drives for All Erection and Crane Rental, who supplied two of the cranes used in the cleanup operations. He says he was running a four-axle truck in 2001, and he drove pieces of a 1,000-ton crane from Maryland to New York. “We were escorted by Maryland state patrol and Pennsylvania state troopers all the way to the George Washington Bridge.” There, he says, authorities made the drivers park and wait along the Hudson.
Two weeks later, he hauled pieces of a 750-ton crane in, and eight months after that, he drove back to retrieve the company’s cranes. “By then it was just desolate land,” he says. “They had taken all of the buildings down that had been destroyed, and it was just like ‘wow.’ I couldn’t believe the sight of it.”
Shipe still works for the company making heavy hauls nationally.
In the final analysis, 9/11 was a momentous event that changed the lives of some truckers forever. Mike Crawford found out his nephew in the Pentagon had suffered a broken arm and a broken leg in the attack but realized a renewed sense of patriotism and anger toward the hijackers that “pissed him off so much he reenlisted,” says Crawford.
Several members of driver Bettina Cameron’s family joined military services as well. She felt like she was doing her national duty “just being a trucker” during a time of trial. “All the planes were down — the only way that things were moved was by truck. It was almost like, ‘You might take the planes down but it doesn’t matter, we’re just going to keep going. I took pride in the trucking industry. For me, it was like I was doing something important, too, for my country.”
Tim Philmon, leased to Landstar, got the rare opportunity to haul steel from the World Trade Center in early 2010, part of a 28-truck Landstar convoy from a hangar at JFK International Airport to the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum in Coatesville, Pa. “It was the haul of a lifetime,” he says.
Philmon was hoping to deliver one of many loads of steel intended for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site, now under construction, putting a personal cap on the 9/11 legacy.
By dawn on Sept. 12, 2001, Dick McCorkle was finally able to get out of Manhattan to Connecticut, where he called his wife in Indiana. He told her he was OK and “that I knew it would be a while before I could get home.”
About a week later, he says, “I returned to the job I had started out of East Greenfield, Pa., and headed back for New York. “Everything had changed. The National Guard and policemen were patrolling each and every stop light, and every entrance into the city. The place where the World Trade Center used to be was still smoking. Cleanup had started, but it was a slow process. The mayor of New York and the President had their hands full.
“After I delivered in New York City, I went to Long Island to pick up another load. It was a trade show headed for Las Vegas. I got to Springfield, Mo., before I was told to return the load, since all trade shows had been canceled. After I returned the trade show, I went back to East Greenfield to make yet another run into New York. The people who had been receiving my loads weren’t there. They had been replaced by an entirely different crew.
“About a month after the attack, business out of East Greenfield had slowed drastically and I relocated. To this day I don’t know whether or not those that had been unloading me made it through the ordeal or not. I’ve never seen them again.”