PORTLAND (AP) – Maine truckers are joining the front lines in the war against terrorism in an initiative that enlists on-the-road workers to be the eyes and ears for law enforcement.

Highway Watch kicked off in Maine on Wednesday as part of a national effort to have millions of truckers and others be on the lookout for suspicious activity on America’s highways. The program is administered through the Virginia-based American Trucking Associations and funded with homeland security money.

The program aims to enhance the nation’s security defenses by training volunteers on how to identify and assess unusual activity, such as people taking photographs in odd places or trucks being parked where they shouldn’t be.

“Truck drivers are on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Dale Hanington, president of the Maine Motor Transport Association.

Highway Watch has received $40 million in government grants and is operating in all 50 states, according to the American Trucking Associations. While truckers make up the majority of the volunteer participants, the program also includes bus drivers, toll attendants, highway workers and others who work on the nation’s highways.

More than a dozen people took part in Maine’s first training class on Wednesday, and Hanington said he hopes to have 1,500 to 2,000 people trained in the state within a year.

Dave Stuart of Hollis, who drives a truck for Gulf Oil, was among those in the inaugural training session. He said it makes sense to recruit truckers because they’re so in tune with what’s around them on their routes. “It’s kind of second nature to us,” he said.

Dick Brown of South Portland, who drove trucks for 42 years and is now a driving instructor for Hannaford supermarkets, said, “Anybody who’s a good American will get involved in this program.”

Tips from truckers haven’t led to any arrests elsewhere involving suspected terrorist activity, said Highway Watch spokesman John Willard. But information gathered through the program has led to investigations, he said.

Truckers and others who are on the road regularly can help identify suspicious behavior or things that don’t seem quite right, such as people who appear to be engaged in surveillance or unattended vehicles in unusual locations, he said.

“Terrorists don’t typically wake up on a Tuesday morning and decide they’re going to bomb something that afternoon,” he said.

Highway Watch isn’t the first initiative to use people who are out and about to bolster the ongoing battle against terrorism.

The Coast Guard has its America’s Waterway Watch, a national awareness program that asks those who work, live or recreate on or near the water to be aware of suspicious activity that might indicate threats to the country’s security.

Back in World War II, lighthouse keepers and fishermen along Maine’s coast were enlisted to be on the lookout for German U-boats, making them the nation’s first line of defense.


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