Half full or half empty?

Half full or half empty?

It's hard for me to believe that in just a few months we will observe the four-year anniversary of the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 - a date that will always live with me as if it happened just last month. Perhaps an even more striking milestone, however, is that there has yet to be another major attack on

U.S. soil. That's a positive point no matter what your opinion may be of our current security efforts, yet one that is argued from two opposing points of view.

Personally, I believe that another attack is not only unavoidable, but probably imminent (a view that statistics would support). However, there are those among us who are just as adamant in their belief that there will never be another attack; that the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings were a fluke. Thus we have the classic "glass half full-half empty" perspectives where the very same milestone is cited as irrevocable proof that all of the security measures that we have implemented to date must be working.

I found this opinion to be supported within my own informal surveys of trade and supply-chain professionals within a small but consistent 10 to 15 percent of respondents. But my challenge in return has always been, based on what? What is the rationale that supports the belief that because nothing has happened in four years, nothing will happen again - especially in regard to countering the threats of such a cunning and determined enemy?

What if the same survey asked to see how many believe there will never be another commercial plane crash? I would find it hard to imagine that anyone would agree with that statement, but even harder to find the difference between the two. Commercial aviation - much like international trade - is an industry where the government has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the public's safety, and yet we still suffer the occasional loss.

If there is a lesson here, it would suggest that security starts with believing, and given the above numbers, we could have a potentially disturbing hole in our security net.

In trade security - given the enormity of what is at stake - the daunting task is that we must be 100 percent effective 100 percent of the time, and yet in a manner that doesn't impede trade and allows us to remain a free and open society (both points that, unfortunately, play into the hand of the terrorist). But this is precisely why every measure we take must be as effective and efficient as possible in conception and execution.

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, for example, represents U.S. Customs' front line trade-security initiative, and yet its participation is voluntary.

Although I understand Customs' desire to work cooperatively with industry - and working with industry directly supports my point that programs need to be effective and efficient - does a voluntary approach make sense at a time when our country is on a wartime footing (particularly if a known percentage of industry doesn't believe in the threat)?

Voluntary only really works when there are real economic incentives tied to it. Today, however, the program lacks either a carrot or a stick. The long-touted "green lane" has become the butt of many jokes, and the worst "penalty" that a nonparticipant can expect is simply the status quo. An effective economic incentive beats a big stick any day and would likely draw participation from the smaller, potentially higher-risk importers.

We have to develop true security-related standards, which are not the same as "standardized procedures." The difference? A standardized procedure might call for all cargo warehouses to have substantial security doors. The supporting standard would define the minimum acceptable criteria for the door's materials and construction. To date, only ocean container seals have been assigned such a standard.

I agree that defining this level of detail would be painful and receive plenty of pushback (as it could require companies to upgrade some parts of their existing infrastructure). But without it you create a program open to interpretation, therefore making it virtually impossible to measure or manage uniformly.

My apologies if I've begun to sound a bit like a broken record. My frustration clearly lies in the fact that we are now approaching four years of activity with so many fundamental issues remaining unaddressed - and the clock is ticking.

William G. "Jerry" Peck is president and founder of Global Trade Management Solutions. He can be contacted at (815) 462-1732, or at wgpeck@comcast.net.