Nov. 30, 2001

Truck device gives CHP a brake


Lab engineers and technicians gathered with California Gov. Gray Davis, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, members of the California Highway Patrol and members of the press Tuesday to unveil the Lab’s latest contribution to anti-terrorism and homeland defense — a special device to stop hijacked trucks from becoming what Davis called "motorized missiles."

As the crowd looked on, a CHP cruiser and an empty, tanker truck sped through the Oakland Coliseum parking lot at about 30 mph. Just after the driver of the cruiser skillfully bumped a short, extra rear bumper on the back of the trailer, the trailer’s wheels locked at a dead stop, sending smoke and the smell of burning rubber wafting over the crowd.

The Truck Stopping Device, as it is known, is the latest idea of retired LLNL engineer and consultant Bill Wattenburg. Wattenburg brought the idea to development with the help of Dave McCallen, director of the Lab’s Center for Complex Distributed Systems.

"People forget the value of having labs like Lawrence Livermore in this state," said Davis. "This technology proves the value of the Lab to every citizen."

After a tractor-trailer crashed into the California State Capitol in January, Davis asked the CHP to develop a plan to stop a stolen or hijacked fuel truck, which could potentially be used in a terrorist bombing, explained McCallen.

The Governor’s Task Force on the Safe Delivery of Fuels was formed to address the challenge, with McCallen and Wattenburg, as well as representatives from the CHP, fuel and trucking industries.

In October, the governor contacted the Lab requesting assistance "to develop a method of stopping such a truck if stolen by a terrorist." The result was a relatively simple mechanical device attached to the back of a tanker truck, designed to stop a stolen or hijacked truck. When bumped from the rear, a blade on the inside of the bumper sheers a special air hose to the brakes. (The air hose is reconfigured to run beneath this bumper.) The brakes on all such trucks are designed to lock in the event of the loss of air pressure.

The device is vandal-proof, Wattenburg explained. An anti-disabling feature is incorporated into the system that activates the truck’s mechanical emergency brakes if an effort is made to disable or bypass the device.

In case of accidental deployment, truck drivers can repair or reset the device to normal operating position in about 15 minutes. However, this cannot be done from within the truck’s cab. The driver would be required to leave the cab and walk to the rear of the truck, allowing law enforcement access to the driver.

Future testing, including tractors controlled remotely by radio, will take place at the Nevada Test Site near Las Vegas in January and February 2002. Tests will include runs at high speeds and with actual fuel in the tankers.

"At NTS, we will be able to take advantage of our radio-controlled test equipment and wide open spaces, allowing us to do very dangerous things in a very safe way," McCallen said.

The initial design and engineering work done at the Lab for this project was funded with an internal Public Interest Work grant. This is money set aside by the Department of Energy for special projects with the potential to impact public health and safety. Funding for the next phase of testing and refinement will come from the State of California.

Following the governor’s remarks, Lab Executive Officer Ron Cochran addressed the crowd, calling the Truck Stopping Device, "Livermore Lab’s latest step in resistance to terrorism."

Cochran went on to thank some of the device design team members, including McCallen, Mark Strauch, deputy associate director for Electronics Engineering; Pat Lewis, EE technician; and heavy equipment operations staff Dave Carter and Duane Smith. Cochran also thanked National Nuclear Security Administration administrator John Gordon and the Department of Energy for their support in the expedient development of this potentially life-saving device.