- By Brian Robinson
- Dec 05, 2004
The skies may still be unfriendly, but officials and experts concerned with transportation security are starting to turn their attention to other modes of transport.
Although the Transportation Security Administration has spent more than 90 percent of its funding so far on airports and airlines, members of the 9-11 Commission also see land and sea transportation as soft spots.
"The opportunities for terrorists to do harm are as great, if not greater, in maritime or surface transportation," commissioners wrote in their report.
Given the shipping industry's dispersed and decentralized nature, most of the early initiatives have come piecemeal. For example, companies in the freight rail industry implemented a plan to strengthen physical security and cybersecurity. However, more coordinated efforts that address the movement of cargo across the supply chain from country to country and across modes of transportation are still in the early stages.
Better tech still scarce
The most powerful investments may be for improvements in technologies with applications across all transportation modes, such as scanning technologies designed to screen containers that can be transported by plane, ship, truck or rail, the commission's report states. However, although those technologies are starting to appear, widespread deployment is still years away, and they won't help with more immediate needs, which must be addressed differently.
Homeland security officials, for example, believe that cargo containers are most vulnerable in rail yards, at road stops and at parking and shipping terminals. Rather than wait for more advanced technologies, they recommend that officials at all organizations responsible for such sites do what is needed to physically secure their premises. That means everything from erecting fences to making better use of technologies such as closed-circuit television, intrusion and motion detection, thermal and infrared detection, and automated identification systems.
TSA's Transportation Worker Identification Card, a system currently being tested, will likely be a major component of this first stab at security. The cards are used to control access, and they rely on technologies such as optical memory strips, embedded chips, magnetic stripes and bar codes. They feature digital photographs and information on cardholders and the level of access they are allowed.
Prototypes of the system are being tested at more than 40 locations nationwide, including ports in Southern California, Pennsylvania and Florida. Users include truckers, longshoremen and workers at container terminals.
The challenge is not so much deploying the technologies needed to track people or cargo, say officials responsible for getting the systems up and running. The real difficulty is integrating the systems with an information-sharing network.
"We can pretty easily take onboard new technologies," said Byron Miller, spokesman for the Port of Charleston, S.C., the fourth largest container port in the country. "But we need to share the data they produce with various customers and the [Customs and Border Protection] headquarters." At Charleston, that means expanding the type of computer and network infrastructure the port has in its main office buildings to other operational areas across the several-hundred-acre port facility, a costly endeavor, Miller said.
That infrastructure will be stretched even further when port officials start using container-tracking systems that incorporate Global Positioning System devices and radio frequency technologies, which is "the next big step," he said.
Another stress on this infrastructure is that port officials must comply with government mandates to make sure goods are transported the fastest way possible.
That calls for complete visibility throughout the supply chain, said Michael O'Hara Garcia, strategic account manager for homeland security for Cisco Systems' federal sector. Port officials "have to understand also how to coordinate with the rail and truck industries, which operate with different protocols, graphical user interfaces and proprietary software," he said. "It's difficult bringing all of that together."
New and not-so-new solutions
Because the organizations that need to share data often use different communications systems, a network connecting them must accommodate multiple protocols and provide data security to different people on the network, Garcia said. It is in this area that innovative solutions are needed.
Vigilos officials, for example, developed a software platform for combining all the video, bar code, access control and other data from multiple locations into an enterprisewide information management system.
The event-based system allows facilities such as the Port of Seattle, where it was recently installed, to provide a real-time command-and-control environment. "Some people use it primarily as a way of just tying together video surveillance for a site," said Doug Gorder, vice president and co-founder of Vigilos. "But it can also be used for such things as container tracking by gathering intelligence at the point of loading so people can collect all of the information on a container into the one system."
Not all the solutions have to be brand-new. The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), for example, is a recast version of a software system Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have used for years to receive trade data from industry and for industry to settle trade accounts.
ACE's goal is to help streamline and speed the U.S. trade system, but it's also used to detect signs of trouble. Previously, it was a rules-based system that required significant input from intelligence officers to make sense of the data and find any anomalies in suspicious shipments that warranted a closer look.
The new ACE, which is being tested now, will use artificial intelligence technology so the system will learn for itself and, presumably, be less fallible to missing potential terrorist activity.
"If done properly, it will reform the way we do business with the trade community," CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner told a House committee earlier this year. "It will also greatly assist CBP in the advance collection of information for targeting high-risk cargo to better address the terrorist threat. And in doing so, it will help us expedite the vast majority of low-risk trade."
The next generation of technologies will expand the idea of supply chain visibility even further, making it possible to track a container and its contents from the point of loading to its final destination in the United States and to know if and when a container is opened in transit.
Technologies being considered for this include electronic container seals (e-seals), data consolidation software, supply chain event management systems, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and GPS tracking.
New developments will eventually include intrusion-detection devices such as radiological, biological, chemical, temperature and light sensors that go inside containers and can signal, in real time, if a container has been opened and whether potentially dangerous materials have been put in it.
The main test bed for those options is the $58 million federally funded Operation Safe Commerce (OSC). OSC officials have been putting combinations of those technologies through their paces since early this year in 18 pilot tests using actual container shipments coming from overseas ports into Washington state, California, New York and New Jersey.
One of the most viable technologies that could be applied to shipment security now is RFID, particularly through its use in e-seals, said Barry Wilkins, director of global supply chain security practices at Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, which is heading the nine OSC pilots at the Tacoma and Seattle ports.
E-seals come in various forms, but they are basically mechanical seals that contain an RFID tag carrying information about the shipment. Electronic readers scan the tags and indicate if a container has been opened or compromised.
"Trade just moves too fast for people to have the time to check seals manually," Wilkins said. "Without this kind of technology, there would be no way of knowing if a load had been violated during transport."
But these and other technologies are only part of the picture. After all, by themselves they can't necessarily indicate if the contents originally loaded in a container are dangerous. What it comes down to is having enough quality data about a shipment.
Shippers are "really going through a continuous risk assessment," said Lowell Thurman, senior project manager for BV Solutions Group. "If they have enough information about a container, then they know enough about it to assess the risk" of carrying it.
Products such as Infoglide Software's Bladeworks, for example, which is being used in the OSC pilot tests, assimilates information associated with container contents, container types, ports, routes and modes of transportation to assess the risk involved with particular shipments.
Intermodal security technologies that operate on any mode of transport are a crucial element of the strategy recommended by the 9-11 Commission. And such technologies could become a lucrative market for vendors. For example, Railinc has been providing communications services to the rail industry for more than 30 years and processes 5 million messages a day. Now the company has launched a product called NextPath, which provides messaging, translation, validation and rail shipment status services that can be used across multiple modes and technical platforms and among trading partners.
"It can be tailored to integrate intermodal shipments information into virtually any link in the supply chain," said Richard Flynn, the company's assistant vice president of marketing and sales.
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Security on the move
A comprehensive system for securing cargo coming into and moving within the United States will involve a variety of technologies, people and locations. For example, a typical process for importing goods to the United States includes:
Packing items at a foreign factory location, transporting those items by road to a container consolidation facility and taking those containers by road or rail to a foreign port terminal.
Transporting the containers by ship either directly to a U.S. port or with stops at other ports.
Taking those containers to a port facility, where the contents are loaded onto a truck or rail car for delivery to a final U.S. destination.
Technologies used might include:
Tracking: E-seals, Global Positioning System and radio frequency identification.
Nonintrusive inspection: X-ray, gamma ray and infrared scanners.
Intrusion detection: Radiological, biological, chemical, temperature and light sensors, and barrier seals.
Information data systems: Supply chain event management software.
Physical security: Closed-circuit television, access control and document verification.