By Lenny Bernstein
On Nov. 6, retired U.S. Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey told a worldwide counter-terrorism conference that although homeland security has improved tremendously since Sept. 11, 2001, “Global animosity toward U.S. foreign policy … is universal, intense and growing. The threat [of terrorist attack] has morphed and remains a huge danger.”
It was therefore good to learn that the Highway Watch/School Bus Watch terrorism prevention program that we helped create and promote actually works.
The Highway Watch Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) recently received a report that a commercial driver with a New York license was taking classes in Rhode Island seeking a HAZMAT endorsement and was very anxious to get out on the road. The suspect was so anxious that he only seemed interested in driving forward and did not want to learn how to back up, the most commonly taught first maneuver in big rig driver training. The situation was reminiscent of when some of the terrorists that hijacked planes on 9/11 told their flight-school instructor they were only interested in how to fly planes at certain altitudes, not so much how to land or take off, and therefore triggered the initial report of suspicious activity.
The long story short is that a variety of local, state and federal police agencies are currently working together and conducting a thorough and very credible investigation of the suspect, who has been charged with overstaying his visa and is facing possible deportation. The individual that called the ISAC may have thwarted a serious terrorist plot. That’s good news for all of us and sounds a clarion call for continued vigilance and training.
The American Trucking Associations reports that the number of people who have been trained in the Highway Watch/School Bus Watch program has topped a half-million, including more than 60,000 school bus drivers and other school transportation personnel. That’s more than four times the total number of participants this program had just a year ago!
If the number of enrollees doesn’t tell you something about the integrity, dedication and patriotism of the people in our industry, then maybe this will: At first, the Highway Watch ranks consisted mostly of individual drivers who volunteered for the training themselves. Now, there are more than 32,000 unique company names in the Highway Watch database, including more than 1,000 school transportation service providers. That’s a big increase from last year (thank you and congratulations to everyone), but our numbers can and should be higher.
The ultimate goal of Highway Watch/School Bus Watch is to prevent terrorists from using large vehicles (like school buses) or hazardous materials as weapons and from taking American citizens (especially children) as hostages. Volunteers look for suspicious acts, like someone showing unusual interest in a school bus or taking pictures of buildings or bus stops. Situations are called in to a hotline, which notifies local law enforcement. Follow-up reports of incidents are shared with government intelligence officials and other law enforcement. It’s a comprehensive system that really seems to be working.
If you are not already involved with the Highway Watch/School Bus Watch program, I encourage you to consider participating soon. It’s easy. The training takes about an hour and is done in classrooms or through self-study with VHS, DVD, CD or audiocassettes. For additional information, call toll free (866) 821-3444 or visit www.highwaywatch.com.
Lenny Bernstein is president of the NAPT and transportation coordinator at Haverstraw-Stony Point Central School District in Garnerville, N.Y.