Cargo transportation and the vehicle security quadrant in high risk environments.

Cargo transportation and the vehicle security quadrant in high risk environments.

A never ending problem?

The main concern in the Latin American ground transportation industry is the cargo theft from trucks, it has a relevant impact in the economies of the region because more than 80% of the goods reach companies and individuals through a huge motor fleet, from pickups to +18 wheels tractor-trailers.

We will approach this problem from the operational level of vehicle security. The strategical and tactical considerations are disregarded from this article; the firsts because they mostly rely on public policies in the sectors of: Education, justice, security, economy, and road safety; and the tactical are connected with too many variables impossible to cover in an article. We will use the Mexican data to illustrate the growing problem and relate it to the model we call: Quadrant for vehicle security in HRE (High-Risk Environments)

According to the Mexican Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP), only considering the investigation files initiated in each of the 32 states, in 2019, a total of 11,659 cargo theft from trucks were reported, an average of 32 robberies a day, which contrasts with the 55 daily robberies registered by the international firm Sensitech in its Mexico Monitor issue in October 2019

Several Mexican associations related to auto transportation of cargo, such as CANACAR, CONATRAM, and ANERPV, agree on a sustained 30% interannual increase of cargo theft, with some bimestrial exceptions in specific locations and type of merchandise. In addition to this, the variety of tactics stands out, ranging from the use of sophisticated radio frequency blockers (jammers), imitation of police and military checkpoints, to simple blockings with caltrops and branches. An important element to highlight is the speed of the operation’s life cycle, from the attack to the distribution of the stolen merchandise, where the complicity of the communities that border the routes becomes evident.

The problem has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Industries that mobilize essential goods report recurring attacks to and from the productive poles and ports; now by “community factions” “farmers” in addition to the usual criminal groups. The common scenario: forced or induced reduction of mobility, followed by a quick and forceful attack on the truck to take it to a hidden storage, or as happening in times of the sanitary emergency, fragmentation of cargo in-situ by tens or hundreds of people previously organized through social media or telephone groups. A clear example of the operations of the criminal insurgency in use of its “community arm” to disrupt or limit law enforcement use of force.

A model of protection

One of the first things learned in Vehicle Security is that the attacker’s level of success is closely related to the information he collects about his target and his ability to limit the mobility of the vehicle; this is achieved – as always highlighted by VDI instructors worldwide – by affecting the driver or the vehicle. Therefore, an effective vehicle security model in High-Risk Environments (HREs) must contemplate at least two dimensions (physical and informational) and two levels of planning (prevention and reaction)

From the safety triangle to the security quadrant

An HRE is mainly characterized by a) intensive use of violence, b) criminals or terrorists with armed control of the area, and c) authorities and/or local inhabitants connected with criminal groups. In Latin America, high-risk environments are often the territory of what we call: Criminal Insurgency.

The complexity of operations in these environments and the increasing level of electronics in commercial and cargo vehicles, pose the revision of the basic road safety model (triangle) that includes 3 elements in a physical dimension: The driver, the vehicle, and the environment where the vehicle operates, through an iterative model of vehicle security (quadrant) that includes passengers or cargo as active elements, and presents an informational dimension in addition to the physical one. The model must be developed at two levels under a simple method such as the Deming Cycle (PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Act). In the case of cargo theft from trucks, we can refer to: a Prevention level in terms of information and planning of anti-theft operations; and a level of reaction focused primarily on extending mobility under attack while reaching a secure location (safe heaven), in addition to the parallel action of obtaining help by passive or active means.


Using the model as a conceptual framework for action, we can tackle the problem of theft from trucks with specific actions on the elements of each dimension: (simplified example)

• Physical dimension: Elements and actions on the ground, mainly oriented to reactive capacity.

  • Driver: specialization in security.
  • Training as security driver rather than Class X freight driver
  • Copilot/Assistant supporting the on-route security plan
  • Armored escort (when applies)
  • Vehicle: for high risk environments (HRE) and high value merchandise (HVM), trucks should have:
  • Armor in the cabin and critical components. Level US NIJ III / CEN BR5 or higher.
  • Elastomer run-flats devices on at least the directional wheels for escapes greater than 6mi/10km with evasive maneuvers
  • Communications system, geolocation, local alarm (visual and / or sound), connection to alert and remote response
  • In 2015 or later models, a cybersecurity assessment is very important: keyless access, telematic servers, phone apps for control and management of vehicle functions, access to ECUs and CAN bus, these among many others that interfere with driver control over the unit and acquire information by illegal means
  • Cargo: depending on its value and operator’s budget, you can choose between on-cargo devices or adjustment tactics
  • Tracking devices
  • Marking, disabling or destruction devices.
  • Complex packing (that limits or delay the transfer to other vehicles or storage)
  • Container – inside- container (previous layer that limits the final access to the cargo).
  • Environment: The analysis of the routes determines the physical means / adjustments in the truck, driver, support, and the tactical deployment. Usually we will refer to the execution of the security plan as a result of the route analysis.
  • Criminal activity. Threat analysis
  • Roads infrastructure
  • Probable attack/choke points.
  • Probable help points/safe heavens.
  • Endemic elements (business hours, clothing, driving patterns and unwritten rules, etc.)
  • Informational dimension: Elements and actions related to the control of personal and adversary’s information. It is mainly prevention oriented.
  • OPSEC: Operations Security is a process of military origin that allows protectors to deny access to critical information. It begins with the identification and classification of valuable information for a possible attack, followed by the analysis of threats and vulnerabilities, to conclude with a risk assessment and the activation of countermeasures. In the case of cargo theft from trucks, it must be implemented throughout the chain, from the manufacturer to the final distribution point prior to the final consumer.
  • PI: Protective Intelligence is an investigative and analytical process that seeks to identify, assess, and proactively generate countermeasures against threats to our assets. The result must be actionable and measurable.

Vehicle security for both people and cargo in high-risk environments cannot be just an exercise in driving skills, satellite monitoring, and luck; a systemic approach is required, which demands more analysis, planning, coordination, and reality-based training from all actors. We believe that just as the pandemic forced us to rethink a new normality, the sustained growth of theft of cargo from trucks in conjunction with the emergence of new modalities of cyberattacks to motor vehicles, will force us to rethink vehicle security and road safety.

Gerardo Corona
ProRescue México 

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