The threat posed by groups of people trying to break into the back of lorries was very much to the fore last summer with the area around the port of Calais in France a major flashpoint as drivers faced increased violence, obstacles being placed in the roadway, and people smuggling gangs becoming involved. Service areas many miles from the port were also problematic with, in many cases, people being secreted into vehicle trailers whilst drivers took rest stops. Not only was the safety of commercial vehicle drivers a critical consideration, in a situation that some likened to a war zone, but there was also the prospect of large fines for those found with stowaways on board during border checks.
Thankfully with the dismantling by the French Government of the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp - where thousands of migrants aiming to reach the UK were concentrated - the situation has eased somewhat but the message from the UK’s FHA (Freight Haulage Association) is that the problem has not disappeared completely, particularly, in other parts of France and Belgium. “I think that professional smuggling will continue,” says Claire Britcher, the Media Officer at the FTA, who, to support her continuing concerns, flags-up a recent example where the association’s EU affairs manager witnessed migrants being taken out of the back of a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) by the police at a motorway services area near Dunkirk.
The Heart Of The Matter
Drilling down into some of the technology that can be employed to detect if there is a human presence in vehicles, Rob Wallander, the Managing Director at Scan-X Security - the UK partner for ENSCO's MicroSearch - reckons that the ability to sense the subtle vibrations caused by a human heartbeat is a good route to take compared to other approaches: "There is no way of stopping your heart from beating, whereas there are CO2 readers that people put in the back but they [stowaways] basically get around that by breathing through a pipe, through a hole in the truck, or breathing into a bag."
In terms of how a solution like MicroSearch is applied in practice, Wallander says that inside a search area a vehicle simply pulls up and the magnetic seismic sensors are deployed on cables: "It takes 10 – 15 seconds from the time you put the sensors on to get a reading if someone is in the truck or not and roughly where they are sitting." The sensors, explains Wallander, work in a similar way to those used to measure earthquakes but instead the focus, by placing them on a vehicle’s frame, is to detect the vibrations caused by a human heartbeat.
Security seals also have a key role to play in establishing if access has been gained illegally to a vehicle, according Simon Robinson, national sales manager at Talisman Security Products: “The seals are usually laser printed with a sequential serial number so the number can be checked at each stop to see if it has been replaced with another. You do get occasions of people cutting the security seal and getting into the vehicle and then replacing it with another one so that is why we have the sequential serial numbers.” For an added level of security, Robinson reveals that seals can be customised with company logos: “It is harder to fake as you need to know the serial number and the custom print on the seal.”
When it comes to vehicles being targeted by criminals’ intent on stealing their cargo or people trying to stowaway, Aidan Robb, the managing director at Donegal, Ireland, based Cargo Defenders Ltd, believes that there is a pressing need for new thinking to protect this weak link in the supply chain. For Robb, it is all about making sure that a vehicle is not the easiest target in the first place which, he stresses, starts from something as basic as having a good lock on the back door: "That is just your visual deterrent and then, after that, is where our system comes in to monitor the back door for unauthorised access."
Essentially with, what Robb refers to as Cargo Defender - Door Secure, once a box trailer's doors are opened, outside of a set location or when the system is armed, the system sets off an audible alarm: "This acts as a deterrent to any intruder by, basically, scaring them. It they try to hide inside the trailer when the alarm is still sounding it is going to be very uncomfortable, and nearly impossible for them, because of the high decibels." Robb adds that whenever unauthorised access happens it is possible to set-up the system so that an alert goes back, automatically, to a control centre and the appropriate contacts are informed: "This can even be sent to the driver if he is away from the truck, at a truck stop, to alert them that somebody is tampering with the trailer."
Moving on to the gearing up of defences on the curtain sider front, this, in Robb's estimation, is an even more testing scenario security-wise, because of what they are made of, compared to a box trailer: "You just have a lot more points to monitor. They [criminals or stowaways] can get in through the canvas roof of a euroliner, they can get in by opening the curtain poles or by slashing the curtain or by opening the back door. What our system does is that we have 'smart' trailer curtain sensors. They detect somebody attempting to cut the curtain so once the knife goes into the curtain it sets off an audible alarm and sends an alert back to the control centre. It basically scares the intruders so they turn and run."
In the end, to help keep trucks safe and secure, as well as having a monitoring system or other security measures in place there is also an onus on drivers to make sure they do a walk around and inspect the cavities underneath the trailer, underneath the truck, basically, the different places where people might be hiding out before they drive off.