Truckers Play Role in Homeland Security

Tags: Trucking, Risk Management, Safety

Con-way Freight's Chief Security Officer Curt Shewchuck talks about how the LTL carrier thwarted a possible terrorist event and is working with shippers and government to secure the supply chain.

In the wake of Sept. 11, cargo security has become the foremost challenge facing shippers, carriers, third-party logistics providers, port authorities, and government. On Feb. 1, 2011, less-than-truckload carrier Con-way Freight's security protocols were put to the test when an employee noted a shipment of explosive materials at its Lubbock, Texas, terminal.

Authorities theorized the shipment, ordered by Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old Saudi student in Texas, was part of an alleged al-Qaeda plot to build improvised explosives and blow up targets including West Coast reservoirs, dams, and nuclear power plants. Thanks to Con-way's handling of the situation, Aldawsari was arrested and charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is currently awaiting trial.

Curt Shewchuck, chief security officer for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based motor carrier, talked with Inbound Logistics about the incident and Con-way's collaboration with shippers and government authorities to identify and prevent potential security threats.

IL: What can you tell us about the incident, within the constraints of the pending judicial process?

CS: A shipment of 10 500-milliliter bottles of a chemical called phenol entered our system in North Carolina, originating at Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, N.C. When it arrived at our Lubbock, Texas, terminal, an alert supervisor on the dock recognized the shipment's label was a little unusual—phenol is not commonly shipped to residential locations. He followed Con-way's escalation plan by notifying his supervisor, who reviewed the shipment and paperwork and decided to contact our regional security manager, who took it from there.

IL: What role do shippers play in Con-way's escalation plan?

CS: Shippers span the business world from known multi-national corporations to individual one-time shipments. Our escalation plan is designed to address a range of situations, including contacting the shipper, if appropriate. The more we collaborate with shippers and the authorities, the more effective the process is. All parties involved become force multipliers in identifying risks proactively.

In this case, Con-way did contact the shipper and the FBI. It has been reported the shipper also contacted the FBI. A double reporting to authorities is exactly what we work toward to ensure information is flowing quickly and effectively to our government business partners.

IL: What are Con-way's roles as a custodian of security?

CS: First, it's a matter of good corporate citizenship on behalf of shippers and shareholders. The second factor is contractual responsibility, where we enter into agreements with particular shippers who establish the criteria that we use to secure the supply chain. Finally, of course, there is a regulatory commitment.

IL: How does Con-way management convey the importance of security throughout the organization?

CS: Security is directed from the top down, beginning with our board of directors and CEO. The presidents of each separate company under the Con-way brand then execute the plan.

We encourage employees to be engaged and participate as stakeholders in the security process. Early on, they learn about security and the role they play as facilitators in the process. They are given tools to execute these plans.

This emphasis would not be possible if our CEO did not recognize security as part of the company's fabric. Our customers and employees expect Con-way's leadership to develop and execute a strong security plan, not only to protect the shipments we control, but also to honor our commitment to the U.S. government and national security.

IL: What lessons did this experience provide?

CS: We have to remain diligent, be consistent in how we execute our plan, and keep our eye on the ball. The incident also reinforces the fact that every employee matters. It only takes one person to follow or disregard the process.

IL: Beyond training and protocol, what measures—technology, for example—is Con-way using to secure its operations?

CS: In security, there are high-tech solutions and low-tech ones. In this incident, a low-tech solution raised the alarm. It was simply a matter of educating our employees and encouraging them to communicate anything suspicious through an established plan.

IL: Following Sept. 11, security became a part of normal business operations, rather than a value add. Is there concern that when security is commoditized, companies lose focus?

CS: I don't think that's the case, but it is something to be diligent about. We've partnered with shippers to recognize that it is more cost-effective and less risky to have security programs and processes fabricated into the front end of the business relationship—to secure the supply chain upfront, rather than after an event has taken place. Our role with shippers is to understand their needs and regulatory commitments, then blend that into our overall security plan.

IL: What role can motor freight carriers play in conveying security best practices and sharing knowledge among different types of shippers and government agencies?

CS: After Sept. 11, Con-way began working with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice as they developed fresh approaches to fighting terrorism. We have participated in science and regulatory development projects with the government to create sound approaches to minimizing supply chain risk.

Government officials need to understand the transportation industry's security challenges, and carriers need to understand the government's needs. Taking into consideration all this information, we were able to come up with sensible plans for both industry and government. This approach allowed regulatory authorities to focus on the areas that needed the most attention.