BIG MISSION Federal study is looking for quick fixes from off-the-shelf equipment.

As security concerns rise over the 800,000 daily shipments of hazardous materials over U.S. highways, the once-hard line between electronics and heavy iron is fading fast.

At the moment, 100 freight trucks roaming across the U.S. are armed with the latest in computerized gadgets and software as part of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration HAZMAT security and equipment test.

Leading the research team is Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, backed by public and private partners, such as the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, American Transportation Research Institute, Qualcomm Inc., Total Security Services International, Savi Technologies and Biometric Solutions Group. As it splits funding contributions with Battelle, FMCSA hopes the 18-month, $5-million study will help carriers quantify the cost benefits of high-tech security devices (ENR 3/17 p. 14).

Battelle project manager John Allen says that HAZMAT transportation in a post-9/11 world is driving the study. FMCSA officials say they want to evaluate options before issuing mandates.

The test has been under way for six weeks. "We are going to finish by the end of April," says Joe DeLorenzo, HAZMAT specialist at FMCSA’s Midwest office in Olympia Fields, Ill. He says the test trucks carry live loads of bulk petroleum, package freight, bulk chemicals and explosives. The devices being tested include cargo-tamper alerts, operator "smart" cards, GPS vehicle trackers, panic buttons, fingerprint scanners and electronic shipping manifests. Prices range from $250 to $3,500.

Receiving minute-by-minute data, technicians at Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters process and forward it to Battelle. Derrick Vercoe, director of operations for Qualcomm Wireless Business Solutions, says the team will crunch at least 60,000 pages of information.

SMARTER Smart card devices focus on drivers, routes, vehicles and cargo.

The decision to test commercial, off-the-shelf equipment will help FMCSA’s final report suggest practical ways for fleet owners to upgrade security while improving vehicle efficiency and availability, says DeLorenzo. The team’s report is expected late next year.

Although construction fleets are not major HAZMAT carriers, they still could benefit from the research. In one recent example, Qualcomm on Nov. 14 inked a deal with equipment manufacturer CNH, Racine, Wis., to supply its new GlobalTRACS data loggers and GPS trackers for factory machines.

The security options also could become construction fleet management tools. "There is an interesting opportunity here in driver identification," says Dan Murray, ATRI’s director of research in Minneapolis. "One of the big issues we have all faced is theft. There are a lot of deterrents built into these systems."

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