Operation Safe Commerce advancing

The Transportation Security Administration is moving forward with a program to test technologies that could help ensure goods reach their destinations safely.

The goal of Operation Safe Commerce is to protect the global supply chain, weeding out vulnerabilities that crop up from packaging to delivery. Federal, state and local governments, along with industry partners are collaborating on the security initiative.

"The issue for them is to be able to demonstrate what all the technologies are out there right now," said Jerry Woolever, senior vice president for homeland security operations at Innovative Logistics Techniques Inc., a potential participant that has put together a team of small companies.

In the program's first phase, a container fitted with onboard tracking, sensors and door seals, was monitored as it traveled from Eastern Europe to New Hampshire.

In this second stage, TSA will take a wider view, distributing about $28 million in grants to seaports in the Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif.; Seattle/Tacoma, Wash.; and New York/New Jersey regions — the nation's three largest load centers.

Ports continue to concern the homeland security community, particularly with last year's focus on airline safety and on meeting the mandates of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. TSA officials, however, have stressed that maritime commerce is a priority, and it is now receiving more attention.

"Each year, thousands of ships and millions of containers enter and leave the United States through our ports," said Adm. James Loy, undersecretary of Transportation for security transportation, speaking Jan. 15 at the Chairman's Luncheon of the Transportation Research Board's 82nd Annual Meeting.

"Although U.S. Customs examines all manifests from imported containers, less than 2 percent of all containers are inspected, Loy said. "The security of the supply system is critical to preventing weapons of mass destruction from being shipped into the country via uninspected containers."

In March, vendors turned in proposals for Operation Safe Commerce, tailoring them to meet each port's specific needs and to address each one's shortcomings. Funding decisions are expected around June, with testing to follow.

Down the road, TSA hopes the best solutions will be replicated and scaled for use by commercial shippers.

"Ultimately, their results could become the basis for developing standards for more secure containers and consequently, more secure supply chains," Loy said.

Getting industry to comply will boil down to cost, Woolever said, adding, "If we make this thing too expensive, they're going to balk."

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