Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
Food trucks pose public security concerns, could be used for surveillance, says memo
Food truck in NYC
The swarms of food trucks plying New York City streets selling everything from gourmet treats to hot dogs could also be rolling safety and security hazards, according to the city’s fire department.
The trucks can not only present fire and explosive hazards, but have the potential to become terrorist stalking horses, according to an Unclassified/For Official Use Only (U//FOUO) memo distributed on Sept. 14 to emergency services personnel by the Fire Department of New York’s Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness.
The memo, made available at the Public Intelligence open source Website on Oct. 22, said food trucks not only carry everyday concerns about public health and potential fire hazards, but also have characteristics that could make them attractive to terrorists.
The trucks are an increasingly common presence on city streets, according to the memo, with over 3,000 permits issued by the New York City Health Department in 2012. There is also a black market for the permits, it said.
Because of the myriad gas, electrical and other hazards presented by the vehicles in emergency situations like traffic accidents, the memo advised emergency response personnel to use caution. In emergency situations involving the vehicles, the Fire Department advised personnel to maintain situational awareness; preserve a safety zones; stretch a precautionary hose line; expect large quantities of flammables and call for hazardous materials response teams to help.
Although the vehicles can carry the everyday health issues as regular brick-and-mortar restaurants, they have unique characteristics that could have implications for terrorism, said the memo.
The trucks’ mobility allows them to be parked at high profile locations throughout the city, including high pedestrian areas and near high-rise buildings for long periods.
Parked in such locations, the vehicles could serve as a sustained platform for terrorists monitoring a particular site, it said.
The trucks can carry compressed gas tanks filled with propane and other potentially dangerous gases, it said. Some vehicle owners that can’t get permits to carry propane make due with illegal portable gasoline engines and gas cans. Even hot dog handcarts, it said, can legally carry two 20-pound liquid propane cylinders. The vehicles also carry portable electrical generators to power fryers and other food preparation gear.
The memo noted cases in which food trucks’ propane tanks ruptured in car accidents, injuring some workers and completely destroying the truck. In an August accident involving one of the trucks at Canadian exposition in Toronto, said the memo, the explosion of the vehicle’s propane cylinders was heard over a mile away, it said.