Trailer Talk

Trucks Block Possible Terrorism in D.C., New York City

Until technology advances, dump and trash trucks do effective blockade duty in NYC. But, is it time to call up the Guard?

January 20, 2017

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DSNY Mack Granite dump trucks, loaded with sand, were positioned at Trump Tower following now-President Donald Trump's election in November. Security was expensive. TV screen shots by Tom Berg
DSNY Mack Granite dump trucks, loaded with sand, were positioned at Trump Tower following now-President Donald Trump's election in November. Security was expensive. TV screen shots by Tom Berg

The inauguration is over and Donald Trump is now our president. But before we see how his administration plays out, let’s acknowledge that trucks played a role in keeping him and everyone else there safe during the inauguration ceremonies, as they did from the time of his election on Nov. 8. TV news shows certainly did, and reporters repeatedly noted the presence of trucks as part of security measures surrounding the events.

Authorities placed heavy vehicles in blocking positions at many intersections in The District (as Washingtonians call their city), sealing off streets leading to the front of the Capitol building. In New York City, police got Sanitation Department trucks parked in front of Trump Tower in New York City (not to mention those and others blocking vehicular access to Times Square on New Year’s Eve).

In Washington, military and civilian trucks helped close a large swath of the city, according to news reports I’ve seen. In NYC, they were DSNY Mack Granites with dump bodies filled with sand to add mass. Reporters began referring to them as “sand trucks.” Later, DSNY added more massive-looking trash collection trucks — Mack LEs toting Heil packer bodies, as most NYC garbage trucks are. But I doubt they carried sand.

Mack LE trash trucks were added to a wide perimeter around Times Square on New Year's Eve. Try driving through that, ISIS! 
Mack LE trash trucks were added to a wide perimeter around Times Square on New Year's Eve. Try driving through that, ISIS!

Trucks as barriers to terrorism – specifically, against other trucks used as “weapons of mass destruction” – seem a great idea to me. A terrorist (a.k.a. ISIS “soldier”) is not going to drive a medium-duty delivery truck into a crowd, as the guy did in Nice, France, last summer, if there are big, heavy trucks in his way. And he won’t get past hulking rigs even with a tractor-trailer, as did the guy in Berlin, just before Christmas.

Of course, while parked, those security trucks are out of normal service, which is inconvenient to the agency that owns them, like DSNY. I’d solve that by sending them back to work and calling up the National Guard and Army Reserve, which have fleets of trucks stationed at armories and reserve centers across America. They’re mostly idle between drill periods, so I’d put them on blocking duty.

Military heavy transport trailer might look menacing to civilians, but it'd do a great job of deterrence. 
Military heavy transport trailer might look menacing to civilians, but it'd do a great job of deterrence.

Guard and Reserve units have some beefy cargo carriers, and some tractor-trailers set up to haul heavy equipment and armored vehicles. One such rig would do the blocking work of several straight trucks, it seems to me. Load the trailers with armed tracked vehicles, and we’re talking deterrence and productivity.

As a former soldier, I like “Army trucks.” But some civilians feel uneasy about the sight of military stuff. Well then, let’s apply vinyl panels decorated with “God Bless America,” “Peace and Goodwill to All,” “Merry Christmas,” and other greetings and decorations appropriate to the occasion and season – maybe even cartoons of Santa Claus, Spider Man, Bambi, Toy Story characters and so forth. Happy, friendly stuff -- except to a terrorist.

Wait — advocates of technology say that it won’t be long before a rogue truck can be stopped by remote control, especially if its owner knows it's been stolen. But that delivery truck in France was rented. No one knew its driver was up to no good until it began running over people. The stolen rig in Berlin might've been stopped, but the electronic mechanisms weren't in place.

Technology could get better. Imagine police officers are standing by at a large gathering with controllers that would zap any oncoming Evil on Wheels. And that they recognize early enough that the driver of an approaching truck is malevolent and not just a good Joe delivering pasta or beer or souvenir t-shirts. However, even if the cops' electronic beam shuts down the engine right now, a truck’s momentum can carry it far enough to do some damage. Triggering electronically controlled brakes, which few trucks have today, might be too late if explosives with detonators are aboard.

Brute force is often the answer to security problems. And carefully positioned roadblocks on wheels – trucks and tractor-trailers – can do the anti-terrorism job fine, it seems to me, and well into a technology-rich future.

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Author Bio

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Tom Berg

Senior Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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