Terrorists Are Targeting Gasoline Tankers

Feb. 22, 2010
Gasoline tankers, and to a lesser extent propane tankers, are the most attractive options for terrorists seeking to use highway-borne hazmat because they can create intense fires in public assemblies and residential properties, according to a study conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has published Potential Terrorist Uses of Highway-Borne Hazardous Materials, which evaluates security risks created by truck-borne hazardous materials, particularly gasoline tankers. The Department of Homeland Security requested the report from MTI’s National Transportation Security Center of Excellence (MTI’s NTSCOE). It is authored by Brian Michael Jenkins and Bruce R. Butterworth, along with Douglas Reeves, Billy Poe and Karl S. Shrum.

MTI has also issued a companion report, Implementation and Development of Vehicle Tracking and Immobilization Technologies, which details specific developments in tracking and immobilization technology that can increase security.

“We consider gasoline tankers, and to a lesser extent, propane tankers to be the most attractive options for terrorists seeking to use highway-borne hazmat because they can create intense fires in public assemblies and residential properties,” says Brian Michael Jenkins, director of MTI’s NTSCOE. “We strongly urge that DHS, state governments and the industry take a renewed look at flammable liquids and gases as a weapon of opportunity, and at a strategy to improve security measures and technology.”

The peer-reviewed reports came from a review of terrorist objectives, hazardous materials, and potential targets. The reports conclude that terrorists most often seek soft targets that yield significant casualties. They also prefer attacking public buildings and assemblies. Terrorists more often choose simple operations promising modest consequences rather than complex and uncertain operations promising catastrophic ones. Terrorists have also discussed substituting fire for harder-to-acquire explosives. Gasoline tankers have greater appeal because they can easily produce intense fires, operate in target-rich environments with predictable routes, and pose few security challenges.

The report urges that the government, which has focused more on hazmat that can cause catastrophic losses, also focus–as terrorists tend to–on the most readily available, least protected hazmat. The report calls for a clear strategy to increase and sustain security, and for resolving significant jurisdictional issues between federal and state authorities; strengthening hazmat security measures in the field; and implementing vehicle tracking technologies, panic alarms, and immobilization capabilities for vehicles carrying specific hazardous materials, including gasoline. These measures also offer safety and anti-crime benefits.

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU.