Stop Thief!

| April 07, 2005

Kryptonite makes a wide variety of solid-body padlocks, including several designs with shrouded shackles to make it harder to use bolt cutters to break in.

Are you safe from thieves? Are you sure?

Many truckers might not usually think about securing a flatbed load except to keep it safely stowed and help them pass through roadside inspections. But any load can be subject to theft – especially if the product you’re hauling is valuable. Why not protect yourself, the shipper and your cargo insurance policy?

Even though any security device can be penetrated – eventually – let’s face facts. If a thief is confronted with a security device that creates a lot of noise and takes long enough to disable, he’s likely to get caught. And, because of those risks, he’s likely to be discouraged by the sight of heavy security.

One way to protect your cargo is with a security chain. When you shop for a chain, make sure to ask about its strength, thickness and shape to ensure you’re getting a quality chain. Also, ask what it would take for a thief to cut through it. For example, Kryptonite makes a security chain from triple heat-treated, boron manganese steel and available in thicknesses up to 3/8-inch. The chain’s links have a trapezoidal shape, which means the link material has a nearly square cross-section rather than a round one. This shape “makes it difficult for an anvil bolt cutter to get a bite because it pushes back,” says Roger Cross, director of sales for Kryptonite Corp. The shape and strong material make the chain a formidable obstacle for potential thieves. You’d need power tools or a big saw to cut it – resulting in lots of time and noise.

If you prefer cables to chains, look for something beyond the ordinary to ensure your greatest security. You could try something like Master Lock’s Python, an adjustable locking cable made of vinyl-coated, braided steel and a solid aluminum alloy, weather-resistant lock body. The device can be cinched and locked at any position along its length. You can use the standard cable length of six feet for jobs like securing your toolbox or order cables in lengths of up to 30 feet to theft-proof cars, generators, air compressors or other freight you might be transporting. A cable like that can help you sleep at night.

Good locks are another important element in securing your load. Look for a lock made of stainless steel so it won’t ever corrode in the locked position – an annoying situation if there ever was one. You might also try locks that offer a second line of defense against bolt cutters, such as locks with bodies fashioned from a continuous piece of stainless steel instead of the commonly used laminated body.

Master Lock’s Python adjustable locking cable comes in lengths up to 30 feet, so you could use it to theft-proof many types of cargo carried on a flatbed.

Many fleets still just apply tamper tags to trailer van doors without even locking them, assuming a trailer won’t be out of sight and control long enough to offer opportunity for theft. Since trailer doors normally have hasps, if you’re concerned you could invest in a padlock to slow down would-be thieves.

To chain down loads on flatbeds, again, don’t settle for cheap equipment. Look for something along the lines of Kryptonite’s Stronghold Anchor, a mounted, 5/8-inch hardened shackle. Cross says you could buy your own fasteners, drill through the bed, and then mount one on either side of a flatbed. You’d then have a way to anchor either end of a chain or cable with padlocks. For a chassis-mounted toolbox with doors split in the middle, you could try a shackleless padlock. The hasp consists of two metal plates that come together and form a circle around the lock, which is then inserted inside and locked in position.

Worried about losing keys or reluctant to carry more around? Get a combination type padlock instead. And if your operation needs to offer access to every load to several people, but wants keyed locks, you can order multiple locks keyed to the same key code, or have a master key or two made. Codes can be embossed on any of their locks so keys can be replaced if lost.
Unfortunately, these products are not yet marked and rated the way cargo fastening materials are, so you’d have to add them to whatever you’re already using. But the benefits of discouraging thieves may make using such products worthwhile.

Food protection
Food cargo protection has become a hot topic since Sept. 11 because of the great potential for inflicting harm to large numbers with invisible biological or chemical agents that could be used to contaminate food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website has some worthwhile suggestions relating to physical security for food. Visit www.cfsan.fda.gov, and then click on “Food Safety and Terrorism.” When that page opens, click on “Guidance for industry food producers, processors, transporters and retailers; Food Security preventive measures guidance.” Or, you can just type in: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/ ~dms/secguid.html.
The site’s recommendations particularly relevant to truckers include:

  • securing doors (including freight loading doors), windows, roof openings/hatches, vent openings, trailer bodies, tanker trucks and bulk storage tanks for liquids, solids and compressed gases, to the extent possible (e.g., using locks, “jimmy plates,” seals and alarms)
  • using metal doors
  • accounting for all keys

    Stealth pays
    But what if you’re a victim of theft? Recovery could be put in motion almost immediately via a security device on your truck that is almost impossible to discover.

    This is the thinking behind LoJack, a device so small, so inconspicuous, and so little recognized that the company refuses to give us a picture of it or reveal where on a vehicle it would be mounted.

    “Its sole purpose is to make it easy to recover a stolen vehicle,” says LoJack’s Scott Nelson, senior manager of commercial business.

    When installed on the vehicle, the LoJack works without any kind of aerial or other visible sign that it’s there. It doesn’t need line-of-sight to communicate, so signals get through right away. It tells law enforcement the location of your vehicle.

    “LoJack’s immediate activation gives a better chance of finding what’s in the trailer,” Nelson says. “In most cases, the contents are still there.”

    You can purchase a LoJack system directly from the company, or through many trailer or truck dealers. A LoJack technician comes to the dealer to install the device. The price is based on a sliding scale with volume discounts. For example, five units go for $495 apiece, the price includes installation, and it’s a one-time payment (there are no monthly fees later). Nelson says many cargo insurers offer reduced premiums for vehicles that have LoJack. You may also save money by recovering your deductible.

    Get wary and save
    Cargo theft, like a crash, always ends up costing you much more than your deductible. Anything that makes life tougher for thieves will save you dollars either by preventing theft or, immediately after a theft, by increasing the chances you’ll recover your lost possessions and by saving you downtime. Insurance companies base premiums on a trucker or trucking company’s ability to protect the goods being transported, and, over the long term, a client’s individual loss history. That means the effort you make to keep your cargo safe translates into lower premiums. And a trucking company known for keeping its cargo safe is also more likely to get and retain any shipper’s business. All that means dollars in your pocket.


    Double-O Driving
    New tractor security devices rival James Bond’s bag of tricks

    Electronic wizardry is about to make your tractor safer – and harder to steal.

    For example, take a look at what just one major company, Qualcomm, is doing. Although most one-truck owner operators and small fleets can’t afford a Qualcomm OmniTracs system for their vehicle, many lease onto fleets that use the system and can equip their tractors for a reasonable cost. Marc Sands, vice president and general counsel of Qualcomm Wireless Business Solutions, reports that the system already offers driver authentication for security purposes. If the vehicle has this capability, the driver must type in a password each time he returns to the truck and starts it. If the password is incorrect, the base station is alerted via a transmission from the truck’s OmniTracs unit. The password can even be reconfigured at each stop so thieves would have more difficulty finding and using it. This function will soon be expanded to read such biometric identifiers as fingerprints.

    The Qualcomm OmniTracs system provides carriers with continuous load tracking and drivers with the ability to send an immediate emergency notification message simply by pressing a panic button. Data can also be shared with shippers.

    The system is available for $100 with no hardware modifications on the more powerful OmniTracs units. Others can be readily modified.

    One of Qualcomm’s niche markets for the OmniTracs system is the common carrier that hauls munitions for the military. This market fostered the development of the panic button already used by many carriers so a driver experiencing a heart attack, hijacking or other emergency can, with the press of a button, inform his dispatcher that he has a critical need for assistance. A wireless panic button a driver can use to activate the panic button in the tractor from up to 400 feet away via a key fob is now in beta testing.

    In the future the system will likely include another exciting technology James Bond’s gadget man “Q” might envy. OmniTracs is marketed in Brazil, where hijacking is as common as it was here in the old West. Brazilian drivers can use a system that interfaces the on-board OmniTracs computer with the engine ECM so the computer can control the vehicle and its systems. The computer can shut down the vehicle if communication between it and the base station is disabled.

    Another possible near-future feature for drivers would allow the on-board computer to disable the truck if it strays off its assigned route. If the vehicle were stolen by a ring of thieves clever enough to keep the vehicle on its route, the driver could simply call dispatch and the dispatcher could disable the truck from the base station. The disablement feature could also be activated should the truck sit for too long.

    But these features won’t see the light of day in the United States just yet.

    “We are taking a very cautious approach here, even though the capability has been used for some time in Brazil,” Sands says. “We need to take a look at different issues. We think the best solution will probably be to put the vehicle in a limp mode so that if the system were improperly activated, the driver would still be able to move it off the freeway.”

    Discussions about how the technology should work will occur in the Truck Security Task Force of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations, OEMs, carriers and vendors. Qualcomm is also participating in a study funded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the costs and benefits of various technologies to improve safety and security in the movement of hazardous materials.

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