Truckstop and Travel Plaza Group Partners With DHS To Fight Human Trafficking
The NATSO Foundation has joined with the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign to enhance its anti-human-trafficking initiative.
NATSO, which represents travel plaza and truckstop owners and operators, has been equipping its members to help fight human trafficking for the past five years, through a NATSO Foundation initiative. Now, the foundation is partnering with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Blue Campaign to bolster its efforts.
The NATSO Foundation’s anti-human-trafficking initiative creates awareness and educates the truckstop and travel plaza industry about human trafficking. It offers tools to train owners, operators, and employees on how to identify and report instances of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking takes place across the interstate highway system, and we were in a great position to help,” said Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman, NATSO’s vice president of public affairs. NATSO members routinely help people—who need to get a flat tire fixed, who are lost and need directions, or who are sick and need a doctor, for example—and their role in fighting human trafficking is “a logical extension of what they do all the time to help people,” she said.
The initiative created a “neighborhood watch”-type program for the industry, Wlazlowski Neuman said. It also provides an online training course that is free of charge. NATSO held a pledge drive at its annual tradeshow asking members to say how many people they were planning to train. In the first week of the pledge drive, members pledged to train 36,000 employees, she said. Some members have even incorporated this training into their employee orientation.
Through the DHS partnership, the NATSO Foundation will offer members the DHS Blue Campaign’s training and awareness materials, including posters and handouts. The DHS partnership “helps expand our reach to members—with more resources and materials,” Wlazlowski Neuman said.
The NATSO Foundation works closely with the Department of Transportation, Polaris Project, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Truckers Against Trafficking, and other organizations on best practices. NATSO regularly cohosts regional “coalition builds” that include different sectors and address issues such as trends law enforcement is seeing.
“One of the things we hear from our members is the importance of having a well-established relationship with law enforcement,” Wlazlowski Neuman said. “We have one member that posts the phone number to local law enforcement in each of their parking lots nationwide so that every customer knows immediately where to call if they suspect any unwanted activity. The relationship with DHS really fits in with that desire to establish good relationships with law enforcement.”
NATSO members are on the front lines, Wlazlowski Neuman said. “They view it as, ‘We are a neighborhood watch. We care about our business, our people, and our customers.’”
In April, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) visited a TravelCenters of America in Foristell, Mo., to learn about how the truckstop chain uses these anti-human trafficking tools. The company and NATSO hosted the visit.