Terrorist Attacks Have Coast Police On Alert For Hazardous Materials

The Harrison County Sheriff's Department's Motor Carrier Unit is realizing it has an even more critical role since Sept. 11th. The unit was started last October to try to prevent accidents on the Interstate by randomly stopping big rigs and checking for violations. Now, inspectors see their jobs as having potential national implications.

"I think our role in preventing national terrorism will be simply that we will be able to gather some intelligence, simply because of the location that we have here," said Dane Maxwell, the officer in charge of the Motor Carrier Unit.

I-10 is a major thoroughfare connecting the east and west coasts. Even though most people don't consider Mississippi a major target for terrorism, if a chemical attack were being planned, the materials could pass through here. Because of that possibility, motor carrier inspectors are examining truck logs more carefully, looking at who prepared the books and where onboard materials are coming from.

"Did it come from a foreign country and if it did, was it processed legally through the United States and through U.S. customs?," Maxwell said.

Hearing that potential terrorists could have the means to haul hazardous materials is chilling for the people who would respond to a hazmat incident.

"The first thing that came to my mind was they could take and hijack a tank truck coming down the interstate or one of the highways or something like that and wreak havoc on the population within Harrison County," Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon Harrison said.

Mixon says there is no way to be completely prepared for every possible incident, but emergency officials have been reviewing their plans and checking security.

Since the Motor Carrier Unit was started, inspectors have stopped hundreds of trucks and have found thousands of violations. Many of those violations were so serious that they've pulled the truck off the road. It is the only unit of its kind in the country.