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September 29, 2014 3:15 AM, EDT

Trailer Security Experts Outline Strategies to Create Multi-Tiered Cargo Protection

By Jim Galligan, Contributing Writer

This story appears in the Sept. 29 print edition of Transport Topics.

There is no such thing as a thief-proof lock, but technology and proper safety procedures can significantly reduce a carrier’s risk of cargo theft, safety experts said.

Multitiered security systems consisting of several layers are ideal, they said, with asset-tracking technologies, driver training, route planning and physical controls such as locks included in the mix.

And should a thief make off with stolen goods, there is broad agreement that the sooner law enforcement can react — perhaps aided by technology — the better.

Asset-location systems “create visibility and enable the carrier and [police] to act faster,” said Jim Sassen, senior manager of product marketing with San Diego-based Omnitracs.

Before the systems became affordable and widespread, crooks would grab a trailer and haul it hundreds of miles to dispose of the cargo, said Jeff Davis, vice president of safety for insurer Motor Transport Underwriters, based in Indianapolis.

“Today, you’ll usually find the trailer close to where it was stolen,” he said. “Cargo is taken off trailers as soon as possible, and technology has had a lot to do with that.”

“Once the trailer is unhooked, technology provides that visibility to show where [the trailer] is at any given time,” added Roni Taylor, vice president of product management with asset-tracking supplier Spireon Inc., headquartered in Irvine, California.

Also, the plethora of activity sensors that can be connected to onboard telematics systems gives carriers much greater visibility about the activity taking place in the truck or trailer, said Henry Popplewell, senior vice president and general manager with technology supplier SkyBitz, based in Herndon, Virginia.

If a trailer is moved without being connected to the designated tractor, most systems can alert the carrier, while door and movement sensors will alert the carrier if there is an unauthorized entry. SkyBitz’s system can also send a signal directly to a driver’s handheld phone.

“There’s a whole portfolio of sensor technology that is being adopted, and a key point is to make security not dependent on the driver,” Popplewell said.

Willowbrook, Illinois-based Magtec Products USA offers an onboard telematics package that can shut down the truck, if necessary. The operator must enter a personal identification number on a computer before the engine can be started, and the carrier can manage the PIN remotely. In the event the rig is stolen, the driver has a wireless “panic” button that can shut down the truck and send an alert.

Similarly, there are multiple technologies that can be embedded in the cargo itself. FreightWatch International, based in Austin, Texas, said its Geo F5 Global Tracker, a GSM/GPRS location tracking and sensor-monitoring device, will operate in impaired environments. The system uses both GPS and cellular triangulation to provide location data and has a built-in battery, antenna and sensors.

Spireon offers a trailer sensor that is activated by the weight of a forklift, said Taylor. “If it senses a forklift and the trailer is outside of a designated area, the system can send an alert,” she said.

Similarly, an option with Omnitracs’ system is a sonic sensor inside the trailer that uses noise to alert the carrier if something is moved.

Additionally, trailer buyers are asking to have tracking devices incorporated into the trailer, said Scott Nachreiner, marketing manager with Stoughton Trailers in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

“I’d estimate [it] at 5% to 10%, but it’s growing,” Nachreiner said. “[We’ll] work with customers to recommend where they can put a tracking device to hide it. We’ll also match the tracking system serial number with the trailer so the customer has that information. “

Most current asset-tracking systems are small enough to be hidden anywhere on a trailer. For example, the SkyBitz system measures 2.5-by-5-by-0.5 inches.

Great Dane Trailers, based in Savannah, Georgia, installs all hardware, wiring and satellite association for all major satellite tracking systems, said Adam Hill, vice president of product and sales engineering.

“Great Dane has established standards in our designs [to] circumvent theft,” Hill said in an e-mail. “Rear-door hardware is designed or installed with anti-theft fasteners that cannot be removed [without] specific tools. Other hardware must be accessed from the interior of the trailer to be removed.” Hill said the rear frame prohibits the removal of the rear door even when the hinge pins are removed.

“We have some customers who will supply their own components above and beyond what’s considered standard practice in the industry, such as anti-theft nuts on the door hinge hardware,” Mark Ehrlich, business development manager, Wabash National, in Lafayette, Indiana, said in an e-mail. “We also offer some options that are exclusive to Wabash vans. Our patented TrustLock Plus System for swing doors, for example, includes an anti-theft feature that keeps the lockrod hasp secure and reduces tampering.”

Bill Anderson, group director of corporate security for Miami-based Ryder System, said that while most of the responsibility for security falls on the lease and rental customers, Ryder System works with carriers to provide driver training in proper security and cargo-protection procedures as well as offering security products such as locks.

Cross-border trailers tend to be more secure than others with doors that can’t be removed, tack-welded bolts and other anti-tampering features, Anderson said, whose company ranks No. 11 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

While no trailer is impregnable, a good lock and some security options will make it difficult enough to deter many crooks, especially opportunistic ones, said MTU’s Davis. “You have to make your load harder to take than the one next to you,” he said. “All locks can be defeated, but the more difficult you make it, the better.”

There are numerous locking mechanisms available for most parts of the trailer, including the kingpin and air and electric connectors.

Transport Security Inc., in Waconia, Minnesota, offers steel covers for trailer door handles and seals as well as an adjustable lock that secures both vertical door locking rods.

TrakLok International, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, combines a physical lock with a GPS transmitter in one unit. The system is paired with a Web portal that provides status reports and tampering alerts.

“The lock is designed to withstand prying, cutting, or impact tools and will send alerts for unauthorized attempts to access the cargo,” said TrakLok President Tom Mann. “The lock can be programmed to open only at a designated delivery location.”

Cold Chain, in Boise, Idaho, developed a remote-controlled system for roll-up doors that is similar to a garage-door opener. Operated only by the driver, the system includes an electric motor mounted inside the trailer and a roof-mounted track that raises and lowers the door. Though the system is not actively marketed by the company, refrigerated fleet customers are using it, said Joe Forney, director of operations.