Even as they began striking back at those behind the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, our leaders asked us to continue living our lives as normally as possible – to return to business as usual while remaining vigilant. Our role in this new war, they said, is to keep the economy and the country moving forward.
Of course things have changed since the attacks: Consumer confidence is falling and people are reluctant to fly. But for the most part, the nation moves on. That’s our nature.
A couple of weeks following the attacks I drove into downtown Sacramento, Calif., to attend a workshop sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The freeways were crowded, as they would be on any workday morning. Truck traffic also seemed normal with the usual lineup at the Antelope scales on I-80.
Downtown, I watched steelworkers and heavy equipment operators working on a new state office complex. A number of construction trucks, transfer rigs and mixers moved in and out of the huge site. A front-end loader dumped dirt into a transfer trailer on one side of the project while a crane lifted air conditioning units off a flatbed around the corner. Nearby, a steady stream of office workers filed in and out of a coffee shop, picking up a cup to go before their workday began. A few paused to watch the construction before heading to work.
The scene seemed normal, but different. American flags fluttered everywhere. Police cruisers were much more noticeable, especially around a state Capitol building still under repair from damage suffered when a deranged driver killed himself by crashing his rig into the building’s south entrance.
After the United States began military action against Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers Oct. 7, the FBI advised police departments nationwide to go to their highest level of alert, because in this war the enemy strikes at civilians, not military targets.
All the extra security will be especially evident to trucking. Movement into and around the nation’s airports, rail yards, seaports and border crossings has been tightened significantly. Truckers waited 12 hours or more to cross the U.S. border from Canada and Mexico in the days following the attack. These long delays at border crossings were expected to continue, and could become much worse if a bill introduced in the House of Representatives in late September becomes law. That bill would require all trucks crossing the border to be stopped and inspected, but its fate was uncertain as we prepared this issue for print.
Of course truckers are used to inspections and showing paperwork, but expect that scrutiny to increase significantly, especially if you haul hazardous materials. Citing a possible link between hazmat trucks and terrorist activities, federal and state inspectors announced plans to visit all hazmat carriers and review all CDL holders with hazmat endorsements. Working with the FBI, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asked state inspectors to focus on driver-only inspections of hazmat vehicles.
Truckers will see more security at shipping and receiving locations as well. These extra measures and long delays will mean increased costs, industry observers say, but will have less impact on the industry than the slumping economy.
We now know that a determined enemy can strike here, where we live, and since Sept. 11 that reality will always be a part of our national psyche. Even as we adapt to more security and the reality that any of us could be the next terrorist target, we continue on doing what we do. We take care of business. Drivers continue hauling freight, construction workers continue building structures, coffee roasters continue roasting coffee. America rolls on.
In this new kind of war, that’s the best thing we can do.