New Device from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Designed to Foil Truck Bombs

A new high-tech Lawrence Livermore Laboratory device that can bring hijacked trucks to a screeching halt may provide extra protection for government buildings, power plants and other possible terrorism targets.

Lab officials Tuesday unveiled a remote-controlled device they say can stop trucks from becoming "bombs on wheels" by crashing into sensitive facilities, including the lab itself.

Although terrorist acts involving truck bombs are more typical in other countries, "We want to be ready in case they come here," said Ron Cochran, the lab's executive officer.

The technology debuted in 2001 and involved a simple device mounted on the rear of a big rig that, when bumped by a pursuing California Highway Patrol vehicle, deployed the rig's air brakes and forced the truck to stop dead in its tracks.

But the new electronically controlled version allows runaway vehicles equipped with the right equipment to be safely stopped via remote control -- not only on the highway but at sensitive buildings and facilities as well.

For example, if used to improve lab security, the tamper-proof, shoebox-size device would be attached to each truck entering the lab property through outer inspection gates. It could not be removed until the truck left the site.

While on the lab property, a suspicious truck could be stopped in its tracks by a security officer pushing a remote-controlled button. A truck trying to enter unauthorized areas would be halted automatically by signaling nearby antennae.

Lab consultant Bill Wattenburg, who came up with the original technology and its later updates, said it takes only about a minute for security workers to mount the device on a truck.

The technology was commissioned by former Gov. Gray Davis and the CHP in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as an attack earlier the same year on the state Capitol by a disturbed driver of a milk tanker.

The driver was killed and the mishap caused $24 million in damage, but Cochran said it would have been much worse if the truck had been carrying hazardous material.

Legislation would not be needed for facilities worried about terrorism, such as the lab or a nuclear power plant, to buy the devices themselves -- at a cost of about $800 each -- to be mounted on trucks during site visits.

Requiring such devices be installed on all commercial transportation vehicles in California would require state legislation.

But a bill that would have required trucks in the state to be fitted with the bumper-tapping truck stoppers has already been successfully fought by the California Trucking Association. The association argues that only 10 percent of all trucks on state highways are California-owned and that state trucking companies would be placed at a competitive disadvantage if required to pay for the devices.