ON THE HOMEFRONT – IMPACT OF WAR
Device Aims to Lessen Danger of Hijacked Gas Trucks
By DAVID GREENBERG
A Sherman Oaks firm wants to slam the brakes on any chance of a terrorist hijacking a fuel truck and using it to blow up a building or other populated area.
Vericom Technologies Inc. is outfitting fleets of gas trucks in L.A. County and nationwide with its Veriguard system, which automatically shuts down a truck’s acceleration system when it detects an unauthorized driver, preventing terrorists from reaching their targeted areas.
“The department of homeland security is looking for every way possible to reduce the risk of a terrorist attack,” said Shraga Agam, founder of the company, which has exclusive rights to distribute the Israeli-made device in the U.S. and Canada. “One of the ways is to protect the fuel and chemical holders.”
“It gives us peace of mind,” said Ronald Appel, chief executive officer of Gardena-based United Oil Co., which outfitted the systems in its 14, 9,000-gallon trucks serving its 105 gas stations, including 85 in L.A. County. “We want to protect out drivers and trucks.”
Installed underneath the dashboard, the system can be programmed for activation within a few seconds or a few minutes after an unauthorized driver takes control of the vehicle.
Once that occurs, head and taillights flash, the horn repeatedly honks and the truck’s speed decreases to 2 miles per hour within a few hundred yards. The delay ensures that terrorists would be far enough away from the hijacking point so the authorized driver would not have to fear retaliation.
So far, Vericom has sold 200 of the combined systems (including 100 in L.A. County) since it began marketing them nationwide last December.
They cost at $500 to $1,500, depending on the quantity and the type of technology used for driver identification. Most customers prefer one that involves dashboard levers as opposed to a keypad with a personal identification number or a biometric thumbprint reader because terrorists can’t see the system is in place.
The devices come separately or with fleet management technology, allowing companies to track via the Internet truck speeds, locations, and delivery times of any type of vehicles.
So far, there have been no known terrorist hijackings of fuel trucks in the U.S. But terrorists took control of a gas truck and blew up a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 19 people, in April 2002.
A couple of other similar attempts were recently thwarted in Israel.
The Los Angeles Police Department, which investigated 90 reported truck thefts last year, has only six sworn personnel working its cargo theft unit. It is a strong advocate of anti-theft and tracking devices on large trucks.
The cost of the devices is partially offset by lower insurance rates, similar to anti-theft devices on automobiles. “The insurance companies will reward you for reducing risks of a potential hijacking of the vehicle,” said Vince Polimeni, vice president of sales for Westlake Village-based Thorson & Associates Insurance Services Inc.