November 2011 | Commentary | Supply Chain Security

Strengthening International Cargo Security

Tags: Logistics I.T., Security

Steve Vinsik is vice president of enterprise security, Unisys Corporation, 202-349-3866

The global supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Shippers and service providers face a dynamic security landscape subject to government regulations and evolving risks. They need to focus on identity verification as a key first step to strengthening cargo security.

Positively identifying who is sending a package provides vital data. Not every government and shipper can afford advanced biometrics, such as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, but locations accepting packages for delivery can easily check the identity credentials presented by the shipper. Inexpensive card readers can verify driver's license validity by examining security features such as holograms and raised lettering.

Countries that don't require this type of credential validation, or companies that can't meet this requirement, should not be permitted to be part of the trusted supply chain. Those organizations should be subjected to additional scrutiny and security measures to validate shipment legitimacy—even if it increases transit time.

While intelligence data gathering and trusted shippers are vital for cargo security, physical security issues also need improvement. At some cargo facilities in the United States and elsewhere, the division between the secure side and public side of a facility is a painted line in the middle of the floor.

Priority must also be given to introducing new technology that can screen cargo for threats. Freight forwarders and carriers should be required to implement an integrated approach to controlling potentially weak security links in the delivery process.

International Cooperation

Analysis tools, when combined with targeted cargo screening, help identify suspicious shipment patterns. Countries around the world should expand the sharing of intelligence tools and standardized data to obtain the visibility needed to detect and stop terrorist activities on the horizon.

International standards could be implemented to improve the detail reported to Customs agencies globally, and ensure shipment data accompanies cargo from booking through delivery.

This level of visibility would include details of the cargo's booking, movement, handling, storage, consolidation, and loading/unloading. Integrating these details into intelligence systems would create more secure cargo handling and movement.

Setting Standards

Today's carriers, airports, and sea ports are under more pressure than ever to handle increasing cargo volumes, manage congestion, address changing customer needs, and thrive in the midst of intense competition.

Shippers, governments, and other trading partners must play their role, too, by expediting security data standard creation and adoption to help manage this daunting task. Once security data can be made actionable, governments should establish improved information sharing practices to get intelligence to the front lines quickly.

It's all possible with today's technology. We just need greater cooperation across national and organizational boundaries.