Misunderstandings about Operation Safe Commerce

Misunderstandings about Operation Safe Commerce

If I had a nickel for every time someone claimed to have founded, been part of, or had the answer to Operation Safe Commerce, I would be a very rich man.

I ran across an ad for two recent seminars promoting OSC and how technology providers can receive federal grant money. Though the registration fee was $1,495 per person, I doubt attendees were told the seminar took place two months after project proposals were due to OSC load centers. This is an illustration of the confusion surrounding OSC.

Operation Safe Commerce is a federal program funded through the Transportation Security Administra-tion and coordinated through three major U.S. "load centers" - Los Angeles-Long Beach, Tacoma-Seattle and New York-New Jersey. It is based upon the original Operation Safe Commerce, a 2002 joint venture between the U.S. attorneys in New Hampshire and Vermont through their law enforcement coordinating committees. The original program conducted a supply-chain test in which a container of light bulbs was tracked from a factory in Slovakia through Canada and into New Hampshire. Thanks to the backing of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and others, this original concept was expanded into today's Operation Safe Commerce.

Central to the success of Operation Safe Commerce is the fact that the TSA is asking those of us in the maritime logistics industry for our expertise and active participation not only to determine the best way to protect the shipment of goods, but to prevent "bad things" (such as weapons of mass destruction) from entering the country disguised as a container of consumer goods. This effort requires a large amount of effort and financial resources on the part of shippers, carriers, terminals and ports.

Why are we willing to absorb these costs? We don't want federal legislation similar to what the airline industry coped with following Sept. 11, 2001. Measures to increase supply-chain security must be economically and commercially viable for use in the existing maritime logistics industry. We don't want to reinvent the wheel. What we want, and what the industry desperately needs, is something that works the first time around. This is not a military logistics effort. We do not want a "command center" to monitor every box moving in the commercial supply chain throughout the world. We do not want every box opened and inspected.

In fact, very contrary to popular belief, OSC is not a technology-led proving ground. The Cargo Handling Cooperative Program is the instrument for the maritime industry to evaluate technologies. OSC is based on the evaluation and analysis of policies, procedures and processes.

Only Los Angeles-Long Beach, New York-New Jersey and Seattle-Tacoma are authorized to pursue OSC grant funding at this time. These ports don't touch the cargoes, and the companies whose supply chains are being tested are not restricted from using other ports of entry. Therefore, no ports are receiving a direct benefit from OSC. And again, the dollar cost is significant for each port to represent the maritime industry.

To counter complaints that OSC is technology-led, I offer these points for current and future OSC efforts:

-- The purpose of OSC is to evaluate the security of a supply chain from point of origin to point of destination. Take note that I did not say, "from point of consolidation of goods into a container." OSC starts at the manufacturer's doorstep.

-- The supply chains are being evaluated for threat security. However, if theft security can be enhanced, the supply chain and the citizens of the United States benefit in both ways.

-- Technology must be commercially available and "off the shelf." This is not a research-and-development laboratory.

-- To better test the system, supply chains must have numerous modal segments and should be complex in nature.

-- The containers evaluated and tested should be of significant numbers to be statistically valid.

By July 2003, the Transportation Security Administration will announce the supply chains to be evaluated. Once OSC is under way, it will take a full year for those supply chains to be tested, evaluated and the results documented. During that time, we all hope there will not be a terrorism incident at a major seaport or transportation center.

In summary, Operation Safe Commerce is an industry-led effort to protect our citizens and shipping lanes from terrorism and theft - an effort being accomplished in concert with the economics of our industry.

J. Michael Zachary is director of port planning and logistics at the Port of Tacoma. He also is Operation Safe Commerce program manager for the Tacoma-Seattle Load Center. He may be reached via e-mail at mzachary@portoftacoma.com.