Security Business

Security Business

Copyright 2006, Traffic World, Inc.

In watching Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff testify last week about his department''s terrible response to Hurricane Katrina, we heard echoes of a question a freight operator put to us back in 2002. "What business am I in?" he asked. "What is it I do?"

The poor soul wasn''t actually confused about his own business, but he was running into dead ends in the new government transportation security apparatus quickly cobbled together after the September 11 terror attacks. He needed a security stamp of approval, the man said, but different agencies in the security bureaucracy were shunting him around, unable to classify his business.

The new report from the (Republican-dominated) House is a frightening read, and one that raises important concerns for anyone involved in the commerce of logistics and transportation.

DHS is the department, after all, that was handed oversight of supply chain security in the wake of September 11. With that oversight, we''d like to assume, comes the planning for the continuation of commercial operations after catastrophic events - no small concern given the virtual shuttering of an entire industry following the 2001 terror attacks.

Hurricane Katrina showed DHS isn''t ready for much of anything, however. "The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are," the report said.

The report doesn''t even get into the missteps on freight security at a department that has been sitting on an air cargo plan well past its due date and has barely spoken on railroad security.

Private industry, as so many of our readers told us, is another matter. Companies across modes were ready and acted quickly before and after Katrina, evacuating workers and then rushing in relief, setting up communications systems and repairing delivery networks.

These are the kinds of activities the government would have to take on in case of another large-scale terror attack. Yet the hurricane blew away any suggestion that the government has created workable common communications systems or even patched together a plan that it can act on.

Chertoff''s dispiriting response was to issue broad bromides bulked up by numbers. "We estimate that Katrina''s destruction resulted in a staggering 118 million cubic yards of debris - more than double the amount produced by the four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004 and six times the amount of debris created by Hurricane Andrew," he told Congress. The Coast Guard, he said, "rescued 33,000 people, which is six times the number it rescued in all of 2004. FEMA coordinated the rescue of more than 6,500 people."

The numbers were supported by PowerPoint slides with colored bars showing "Lives Saved" in Katrina against those in other hurricanes and another showed those cubic yards of debris, showing Katrina debris alongside previous hurricanes.

What business is DHS in, you might ask? It puts together charts.