Commercial Assistance Call Centers

Commercial transport companies such as truckers and railroads, do not participate in 911; however, they operate control centers that stay in contact with their trucks and trains and these systems, along with advanced logistics systems central to their business, collect information that may be of value for biosurveillance. Larger enterprises use GPS to track the location of their trains and trucks. Their data systems contain information about what substances their trains and trucks are carrying and collect en-route information from train engineers and truck drivers who are in direct contact with control centers that dispatch assistance in emergencies. This information can include sudden changes in the engineer's, or driver's, ability to function, as would be caused by an illness or other mishap of interest (such as a spill) to biosurveillance. In addition, engineers or drivers may report incidents or sightings, such as dead animals or birds..

Railroads assign grade crossings location codes and usually post them, along with a toll-free telephone number, on the familiar red-light equipped "cross-bucks'' sign. This is to enable passersby to notify the railroad if they witness a dangerous situation, such as an accident, a derailment, or a hazardous material spill.

The systems currently employed by trucking companies can automatically track not only where a truck is located, but also whether the trailer is empty or full, or disconnected from the tractor and thus located elsewhere. Drivers can reach a control center operator at any time, as needed, and so the company's call center will often become aware of a problem before a public 911 center will.

These companies, with fleets of thousands of tractors and trailers, also employ advanced, computerized logistical systems allowing a shipped item to be tracked continuously from shipping dock to receiving dock. Since some are licensed to carry hazardous materials, pharmaceuticals, biological samples and other items of interest to a bioterrorist, the companies' tracking systems and call centers are important sources of data to consider. Since these modern systems use relational databases, they will generally be technically amenable to modifications for purposes of biosurveillance. Access to these databases is as valuable to public health authorities as access to CAD databases, described earlier (JB Hunt Transport Services Inc., 2001, Schneider National Inc, 2005, Werner Enterprises, 2001, CRST International, 2005, CSX Corporation, 2005, Norfolk Southern, 2001).

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