NEWS

9/11 forced lockdown at Ont. chemical plant

09/09/2011 12:42 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST

Rob Swyntak spent 9/11 in lockdown — in Amherstburg, Ont.

Not long after two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the Honeywell plant in Amherstburg was completely locked down. Swyntak was a payroll employee locked inside.

The plant produces volatile and hazardous hydrofluoric acid and trucks it to plants in the U.S.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the acid "a potential agent for chemical terrorism."

"Talk about a weapon of mass destruction ... a little dab'll do you and you would be finished, so in the hands of a terrorist, you'd have a lot of problems," said Swyntak, now in the labour relations and recruitment department at Morrice Transportation.

Police patrolled plant

Swyntak recalls how the Honeywell plant went into lockdown as he watched the events in New York unfold on a TV in a boardroom.

"The yard became just a solidified guarded fence," Swyntak said.

He said Amherstburg police and the OPP were patrolling the perimeter of the facility. Anyone found in the area was apprehended, according to Swyntak.

"That went on for quite a while after," Swyntak said. "It changed the entire spectrum of how trucks were going in and out of there."

Increased security for drivers

Swyntak said the attacks brought dramatic changes to the trucking industry. Drivers must now pass rigorous background checks and testing, he said.

"When I first started this in '88, you hand a guy a set of keys; you get him down the road. How fast can you get to the next destination?" Swyntak said. "Now, we've got the satellite tracking where we know where every driver is at every time and the drivers are more educated, so you're getting a better driver out of the deal."

Swyntak said drivers must complete a background check dating back five years. They must also complete hazmat training. Even the dispatchers have enhanced training, Swyntak said.

Canadian drivers can obtain a Fast and Secure Trade (FAST) card to make border crossing easier. In the States, drivers are fingerprinted, he said.

Loads now are tracked using satellite.

"So you know when your load is dispatched, it's getting from point A to point B safely, on time, all tracked," he said.

Security measures at the border, too, are more intense.

"The United States really stepped up their border patrols," Swyntak said. "Our guys get X-rayed, which is time consuming, which ends up in lost hours, which ends up in lost revenue. That's a bit of a game, and it's all U.S. driven."

Swyntak said drivers have waited for up to five hours to be X-rayed.

The extra precautions and training cost money — a FAST card costs $50 US — and many small companies and independent truckers have been forced out of business, according to Swyntak.

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