Post-Sept. 11 report card

Post-Sept. 11 report card

It's hard to believe that this week marks the two-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In some aspects it seems a lifetime ago, and yet in others as if it just occurred. And like all defining moments, many of us can recall in vivid clarity where we were at that time.

For me it will forever be the memory of waiting to board my flight out of Chicago's O'Hare airport and witnessing the incredibly surreal picture of one of the world's busiest operations grinding to an unnatural standstill. Observing how the news spread from cell phone to cell phone and the resulting spectrum of human emotion as even airline personnel watched in disbelief at the hundreds of loaded planes suddenly stopping dead in their tracks, filling every square yard of open taxiway and tarmac as far as you could see. Of the overwhelming sense of helplessness and then suddenly no longer knowing where "safe" was.

However, the most haunting image in my mind was not even one of my own experiences, but a story relayed to me by a friend who received a call from a distraught colleague seeking help in dealing with his experience. The person had been at the base of one of the World Trade Center buildings as people began jumping, and described to my friend the "pink mist" that enveloped the grounds where bodies literally exploded upon impact.

Why share that story? Because even now there are those who would say that the attacks were a fluke and are incapable of happening again. Interestingly, a poll conducted by the Associated Press just 10 months after the terrorist attacks reported a full 73 percent of Americans had not changed any aspect of their personal lives or routines. A more recent Harris Poll of Fortune 1000 "C-level" executives concluded that only 15 percent admitted to their businesses being fully prepared in the event of another disaster or attack.

Perhaps our unwillingness to yield to change is ironically in part what also makes Americans so resilient. But prepared or not, we have nonetheless witnessed a near unprecedented magnitude of change affecting government restructuring, spending, and in the implementation of a variety of security-related initiatives. However, this flurry of action has drawn the rare criticism that the distribution of funds for various security projects has actually moved too quickly. That the government - in its desire to demonstrate activity - has in some cases confused motion for progress.

As a result, this year's observance also marks an opportunity to assess these changes and initiatives. I have room for only four, but wanted to share my own "mid-term" grade and comments.

__Creation of the Department of Homeland Security: (A).

An enormous undertaking where the need to rein in, coordinate and control the myriad of intelligence and enforcement departments was arguably well overdue. An "A" for effort, but concerns remain over Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's ability to successfully navigate the "white waters" of change management, as well as the successful integration of multiple systems.

__Dividing the U.S. Customs Service: (Incomplete).

Separation of Customs' revenue and enforcement functions may finally give the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection the clout, resources and "respect" that it has lacked in the past, or, as one Customs official described, "overcoming the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome." I personally like the plan, but will withhold my grade as concerns abound in reverting to a decentralized structure that created so many earlier problems for the uniform application of trade laws.

__The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism: (D).

I continue to support this program if only because it forces a participating company to examine its current operational policies and procedures - a quality process that often leads to improvements in compliance, cost and/or cycle-time - as well as security. But in addition to other issues, I primarily have enormous difficulty accepting a program that relegates cargo security to voluntary status while there still is universal acknowledgement that the international supply-chain represents the single-largest risk for the conveyance of a terrorist weapon.

__The Container Security Initiative: (A+) Bravo.

A solid, proactive strategy of "pushing the borders out." Given its significance, combined with the immensity and complexity of implementing such a program throughout the world's busiest seaports, Customs has done a remarkable job.

William G. "Jerry" Peck is president and founder of Global Trade Management Solutions. He can be reached at (815) 462-1732, or via e-mail at wgpeck@global-trade-ms.com.