Secure Blueprint

Secure Blueprint

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

The "9-11 Commission Report" arrives like a splash of cold water in this summer''s heated and politicized debate over terrorism.

At 567 pages, it''s both a detailed, even clinical, historical description of how things went wrong and a blueprint for repairing a broad range of weaknesses in United States security. That blueprint includes very specific and very extensive descriptions of initiatives on cargo security, initiatives that would have a significant impact on just about any supply chain, both in the way logistics operations are handled and in what they cost.

Shippers and logistics companies wondering what a new world of supply chain security will look like need to pay close attention to the recommendations because the commission has, in clear and dispassionate terms, set out the terms of the debate for the coming months and years.

That the terms of the debate are clearer will not provide much solace to the shipping community; this report foresees cargo security that is active, constant and surely - this is the bottom line for many - more expensive than what has gone before.

"Major vulnerabilities still exist in cargo and general aviation security," the commission writes.

The report criticzes the progress the Transportation Security Administration has made so far. "The current efforts do not yet reflect a forward-looking strategic plan systematically analyzing assets, risks, costs and benefits. Lacking such a plan, we are not convinced that our transportation security resources are being allocated to the greatest risks in a cost-effective way."

Modes outside aviation should not be havens from security constraints, the report says. "While commercial aviation remains a possible target, terrorists may turn their attention to other modes. Opportunities to do harm are as great, or greater, in maritime or surface transportation. Initiatives to secure shipping containers have just begun," the commission wrote.

Yet the TSA, says the report, "has developed neither an integrated strategic plan for the transportation sector nor specific plans for the various modes - air, sea and ground."

In phrases that cargo industry executives embrace, the report recommends a "layered security system" that includes evaluating transport operations and setting "risk-based priorities for defending them ... the most practical and cost-effective ways of doing so and ... a plan, budget and funding for doing so."

It even sets out what that budget should go to: the 9-11 report describes technologies under development to screen cargo containers across the modes and says those should be combined with increased use of intelligence to identify and track "high-risk containers, operators and facilities."

The most specific recommendation is where the airline passenger business meets the cargo business. The commission says TSA should require passenger aircraft carrying cargo to use at least one hardened container to carry "suspect cargo."

This proposal, which has been tossed around in the years since the Pan Am 103 bombing, has a lot of practical problems that the commission conveniently ignores - obviously, the commissioners concluded the impediments aren''t as significant as the risks - but we doubt any passenger would feel safer knowing there is "suspect cargo" on board but it''s held in a big, heavy box.

And like passengers, shippers may not feel entirely secure knowing the TSA has been told to pursue full "funding" for security improvements.

That is the question mark with a big dollar sign behind it. And it is where the debate over supply chain security will grow more heated and more political for the rest of the summer, into the fall and beyond.