X-raying the Future

X-raying the Future

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Anti-terror regulations will force shippers and carriers to use technology to secure their supply chains. But what types of products and systems will they need?

There are no quick and easy answers. Many products hitting the market are too new for companies to gauge their usefulness. Many federal regulations still are pending.

Instead of rushing to buy and install the latest and greatest high-tech products, shippers and carriers are improving their business processes while waiting to learn what technological improvements the federal government will require. Many are finding new ways to use existing technology to improve supply-chain security.

Much of the technology needed already may be there. John Ficker, president of the National Industrial Transportation League, said the big issue is combining information from shippers and carriers and presenting it in a cohesive manner to the government. And the government hasn''t asked yet for much of this information - although it will, he added.

Ficker believes NITL may play a role in setting standards for cargo security. In the meantime, there are many unanswered questions. "This is all so new," he said. "What is it we are trying to accomplish?"

NITL does not recommend one technology or even a type of technology over another. It does have a biannual meeting of its Information Technology Advisory Committee for members to meet and discuss concerns. The group has not formed a cargo security committee because many cargo security issues are discussed along modal lines, he said. "Nobody is painting a broad picture," he said.

Peter Cheviot, director of corporate security for BAX Global, said the basic technology his company is using and that is available on the market - from alarm systems to surveillance cameras - remains the same as before September 11. BAX has installed new technology "but not because of 9/11," he said.

What has changed is how the technology is being used. There''s greater awareness of how to use technology to improve cargo security, said Cheviot. For example, tracking systems and customer relationship management applications initially were installed to improve customer service and sales, he said. Now the company is looking at information from these systems in a much closer manner and is more sensitive about security issues, he said.

With government agencies, BAX is "very aggressive in the amount of interaction we are having," said Cheviot, who describes the interaction as being at the "brainstorming" level today. The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration "are looking at what you have in place but, from a recommendation standpoint, I do not see or hear anything," he said.

Cheviot is concerned that the U.S. government may ask freight forwarders to install X-ray machines, which would be "very expensive," he said. "Individual companies are not in a position to afford it."

In the end it all comes down to people, said Cheviot. A company may have the latest technology but "if your people aren''t doing their job, then you can''t stop (a threat) from happening," he said. The government recognizes that and is evaluating business processes, said Cheviot.

Steve Goldberg, executive vice president of operations for freight forwarder SEKO Worldwide, predicts that the U.S. government will ask carriers to screen all freight. Today "I don''t think the industry is ready to scan every shipment," although the airlines may be forced to do so, he said. The government also may mandate certain technologies, he said.

Freight forwarders are ahead of the game, though, said Goldberg. "We''ve been scrutinizing freight pretty well since before 9/11. If we didn''t know who you were, you couldn''t ship with us. Freight forwarders are almost a buffer before the airlines," he said. "Right now there is no high security for other industries, just airlines. But we''ve always had some" security, said Goldberg. SEKO plans to standardize its practices globally, he added.

Ron Berger, managing director of information technology for the forwarding division at Menlo Worldwide Technologies, a unit of CNF, echoes the sentiments of Cheviot and Goldberg: the technology is there and Menlo is using it to improve cargo security. The company checks for denied parties and prohibited commodities, and works with government agencies from around the world to screen cargo, he said.

It''s not only the United States that is interested in cargo security. Israel, the United Kingdom and "a number of European countries" are developing their own initiatives, said Berger, who is discussing the issue with government officials from around the globe. Berger said he is "starting to see some commonality" in the kinds of information that governments want to improve cargo security and the regulations that are being developed, he said.

Fortunately Menlo is ready to handle any request, having installed a new computer system, said Berger. "We have just retired our last legacy system in the last couple of months. We can make system changes to support statutory changes within months," he said.

New actions are in the works at TSA but nothing is expected before the end of the year when the agency plans to propose rules covering air cargo security, said agency spokesperson Darrin Kayser. Information the government currently is receiving from shippers and carriers seems to be "what we need," he said. And while TSA prefers electronic communication with shippers and carriers, currently there are no plans to make that mandatory, he said.

TSA is interested in strengthening its current known-shipper program, developing a cargo "prescreening" and profiling system to flag suspicious shipments and running targeted inspections of identified suspicious cargo for shipments on passenger planes, said Kayser. It also continues in discussions with the trucking and rail industries about ways to improve their security, he said.

Both Goldberg and Ficker recommend working with the government agencies, not only to get pointers on beefing up cargo security but also to make your voice heard. And all three advise making cargo security a priority. Cargo security, said Cheviot, "has become a cornerstone of our program and it''s going to have to stay that way."