Protecting Your Cargo: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Each year cargo theft takes a major toll on companies that transport goods, with estimated losses totalling more than $15 billion annually—and rising. Advanced technologies and anti-theft devices now on the market help companies maintain the integrity of freight in transit. Here’s a look at the products that can protect your cargo.

Protecting against cargo theft, once a secondary concern to shippers and carriers, is now an intrinsic part of doing business. Keeping a trailer or container locked is, of course, the easiest way to keep thieves out. Dozens of locks and seals are available to help companies do just that, with new, high-tech options rapidly hitting the market.

“Cargo security has evolved drastically in the last five years,” says Lars Behrendt Jensen, vice president of Whippany, N.J.-based Oneseal, a manufacturer of high-security seals. The cargo security industry, once limited to basic padlocks, has expanded to include a wide array of mechanical seals and locks of varying strengths.

A Crash Course in Seals

Mechanical seals are available in two different forms—indicative seals and barrier seals. Made of plastic or thin strips of metal, indicative seals change shape or composition when tampered with.

An indicative seal may show a “blush mark” or white stripe, for instance, in the area that has been tampered with. The most basic option for locking containers and trailers, indicative seals are inexpensive, usually priced at less than 20 cents per seal.

Bolt seals and cable seals are known as barrier seals, and are made in varying diameters. The thicker the diameter, the stronger the seal is the general rule of thumb. A high-security seal usually has a diameter of about three-sixteenths of an inch or more, and affords greater security than its narrower counterparts.

But while seals go a long way toward preventing cargo theft, “there isn’t one seal on the market that a determined thief can’t beat,” says Jerry Peck, transportation marketing manager for EJ Brooks, a security products company based in Livingston, N.J.

So how can shippers outwit professional cargo thieves? Staying a step ahead of the curve is one answer.

“In addition to cargo security, shippers are dealing with the ISO/PAS 17712 standard,” says Peck. “This standard establishes uniform procedures for the use and acceptance of high-security mechanical seals on maritime containers and trailer loads.”

In order to be classified as high-security and used to secure freight containers in international commerce, seals must meet a series of physical strength requirements set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). When U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issues the ISO/PAS 17712 mandate later this year, shippers and carriers will be required to secure cargo according to these specifications.

Many manufacturers of high-security seals are not waiting for a mandate to put their seals to the test. Brooks, for example, started manufacturing and testing its high-security seals against the requirements of the ISO standard two years ago. “We are trying to stay innovative by designing new, stronger seals that are more tamper-evident and multi-functional,” says Peck.

One example is the company’s Keeper Sealock cable seal, which secures container and trailer hardware as well as their keeper bars, and is ISO/PAS 17712-compliant. The cable seal has two trailer ends. The longer end wraps around the keeper bars of trailers or containers to prevent unwanted opening. The second, shorter cable end is threaded through the container or trailer hardware. This configuration helps prevent thieves from opening the doors and stealing the load.

Upgrading Security

With CBP’s increased emphasis on cargo theft and securing international shipments, shippers are exploring the available options.

“We see an increase in the number of new seal users,” says Eric Hamilton, federal sales and product marketing manager for Hastings, Mich.-based seal manufacturer TydenBrammall. Other trends include an increase in the strength and robustness of new seals, and shippers and carriers upgrading the barrier protection of their seals for increased security, Hamilton notes.

“TydenBrammall has released a new product called the World Bolt seal, a plastic container seal for international shipping that meets the ISO/PAS standard,” says Hamilton. “This seal is highly tamper-evident and has a number of different features including the ability to apply a secondary seal after inspection.”

The company has also enhanced security features on its Alum-A-Loc Seal HS to make it harder for thieves to penetrate. The cable seal has an added security feature to deter truck, railcar, and container load theft and tampering, and is composed of a drill- and corrosion-resistant lock body. It is removable only with specialized, professional-strength cable cutters.

But as locks and seals continue to evolve, so too do the techniques of thieves. “We have been the victims of seal forgery,” admits Ed Alford, security manager for Crowley Liner Services. Thieves counterfeit the sequential numbering on the seals in order to steal loads, he explains.

By using laser-engraved seals rather than seals marked by heat printing techniques or ink jet printers, Alford has managed to counter the efforts of determined thieves. The ocean carrier uses Oneseal’s laser-engraved seals, which are easily noticeable in the event someone attempts to tamper with the markings.

One of Oneseal’s most secure offerings is a barrier seal called the Hairpin seal. Unlike most devices, this seal cannot be removed with a bolt cutter. It can only be broken using an industrial cutter or torch burner, greatly reducing a thief’s ability to penetrate the seal.

“The company is also currently developing prototypes for electronic seals imbedded with RFID,” says Alford. “This is the future of cargo security.”

Detection Technology

Although mechanical seals continue to provide an effective barrier against theft, electronic seals are truly the wave of the future, agrees Oneseal’s Jensen.

Electronic seals have the same physical strength as mechanical seals but are imbedded with an RFID chip for read/write or tracking capability. With this developing technology, a readable device is attached to a trailer or container monitoring the shipment’s location via global positioning system (GPS), and acts as a theft-deterrent lock. Oneseal is currently developing electronic seals that conform to universal frequency standards and will eventually be used to monitor and track freight in transit.

Once electronic seals are implemented on a large scale, “we can ensure the increased security of shipments because we’ll be able to monitor all containers coming in and out of the ports,” says Jensen. Until then, however, shippers and fleet operators are relying on fleet management technology with GPS to track trailers and monitor load integrity.

The technology is paying off, says Matthew Percy, vice president of AD Transport, a transportation provider with offices in Michigan and Illinois. First leery about trailer-tracking systems, the company eventually invested in GE Equipment Services’ VeriWise asset intelligence system for its fleet, believing the benefits would outweigh the costs.

That belief was recently confirmed when a driver for the company returned to a Maryland truck stop to find his trailer was stolen. After engaging the installed VeriWise system, AD Transport worked with Maryland police to confirm the new location of the trailer within one hour. “The recovery of our stolen trailer using the VeriWise system showed us how essential the technology is,” says Percy.

VeriWise is a two-way data transmission system that sends various types of information to and from the onboard device. Trailers can also be equipped with a sensor that indicates when the door is opened or closed. Sensors on the front wall of the trailer indicate when cargo is present in the vehicle, giving the operator the ability to monitor the integrity of a shipment from the point of loading to its final destination.

“The VeriWise system can track a trailer within 12 minutes of something going wrong,” notes David Gsell, product sales leader for VeriWise, GE Equipment Services. “By rapidly tracking a stolen trailer, companies have greater success recovering both the vehicle and the cargo inside.”

The system is also easy to install, says Percy, which makes it a good fit for small shippers or carriers unsure of their ability to deploy the system on their own fleet. “The installation process is simple,” says Percy. “It takes two people about 45 minutes per unit.”

Installing trailer-tracking capability may be necessary to prevent cargo theft, especially because thieves often track trailers as well. “We’ve seen thieves follow a tractor-trailer for hundreds of miles, waiting for the driver to get out of the vehicle so they can hijack the load,” says Gsell. “Thieves know what products are on a particular trailer, and they are good at finding specific points across the country where they’re more likely to make a quick getaway.”

“Trailer-tracking technology has led us to the location of stolen trailers on a number of occasions,” agrees Paul Mueller, vice president of technology for Schneider National. The nationwide carrier utilizes Qualcomm’s OmniTRACS solution to provide wireless communication and satellite positioning tools for managing its trailers.

“We’re also in the process of deploying this trailer-tracking technology in the fleet,” says Mueller, “including a series of sensors that provide cargo status independent from the trailer. This will provide the same equipment status information from the tractor that we now have in the trailer fleet.”

The T2 Untethered TrailerTRACS solution by Qualcomm automatically reports the location and status of a company’s trailers. It issues alerts when trailers move inside or outside user-defined boundaries, and detects the opening and closing of trailer doors and the presence or absence of cargo.

Maintaining Integrity

Whether a company selects seals, tracking technology, or a combination of both, how does it know what level of load protection is necessary? All shipments are potentially at risk, but to assess what level of security to employ, companies must consider the type of goods being hauled, says Norm Ellis, vice president and general manager, Qualcomm.

“Crime circles and thieves target commodities that can easily be resold on the black market,” he says. “Items such as cigarettes, alcohol, consumer electronics, clothing, and computer equipment are all considered high-value cargo for criminals.”

That’s not to say your shipment of office supplies, or even fresh food is safe, however.

“We have customers who haul frozen food shipments, and their loads also get picked off. One customer had a $100,000 load of high-quality beef stolen,” says Ellis. “These are not thieves jumping in a random truck. They are usually organized crime units who know what they are looking for, and have people lined up to buy the stolen cargo.”

Even the strongest seals and the most advanced detection technology may not be able to completely protect shipments from cargo risks.

“Using a barrier seal is not an absolute guarantee against theft and tampering,” says TydenBrammall’s Hamilton. “Shippers still need to inspect the loads and verify the serial numbers on the seal to ensure the shipment has not been tampered with.”

Analyzing Risks

In order to maintain the integrity of loads, shippers should also analyze their risks, adds Hamilton. “Find out where the vulnerabilities are,” he advises. “If you use trucks to ship loads, consider your routes and what you are hauling.”

Be aware of trouble spots where thieves may lurk, such as major intersections where it is easier to drive loads away in a variety of directions, he says. Hamilton also cautions that certain areas may be more secure than others for parking trucks overnight.

Having the right procedures and attitudes within the company is also a key component to ensuring cargo and trailer security. “Theft can occur in-house, with employees pre-arranging the heist of a truck,” says EJ Brooks’ Peck. “Terminal managers should strictly enforce all established theft-prevention procedures and make every effort to ensure that seals remain intact, secure, and in the right hands.”

The company should also hold one person responsible for recording seal numbers and documenting those on the appropriate applications, such as bills of lading. By adhering to specific procedures and making all employees aware of protocols, companies can help maintain the integrity of cargo.

While ensuring the security of freight in transit may add to the cost of doing business, it is money well spent, says Peck.

“Too many companies buy seals on price alone without considering their appropriateness for a particular trailer or container load,” he says. “You can’t short-change a seal’s performance without compromising a trailer or container’s inherent security and integrity.”

A New Crime Boss

A group of cargo thieves outwitted by a three-inch plastic transceiver? True story.

The compact MiniBOSS, an asset-tracking, monitoring, and recovery device from Canadian cargo security provider Bulldog Technologies played the role of top crime-fighter in a recent sting operation executed by the New Jersey State Police’s cargo theft unit.

After a string of thefts, the New Jersey police recruited an informant within the organized group of thieves. At an appropriate time, the officers inserted the MiniBOSS covertly in the informant’s jacket.

With the device in place, the police tracked the exact location of the gang as they made their way from New Jersey to Connecticut.

The cargo thieves were continuously tracked during a warehouse robbery, and were in the midst of loading the stolen goods into a previously stolen delivery truck when they were apprehended by the South Windsor, Conn., police department and the Connecticut State Police.

Weighing just six ounces, the MiniBOSS is a cellular-based assisted global positioning system device designed to work in conjunction with Bulldog’s vehicle location software program. The device is placed on a person or in a shipment, and remains dormant until activated by the user. Upon activation, it updates the system’s mapping engine and provides real-time, true position of the asset.

“The law enforcement community is constantly looking for solutions that provide the ability to stay a few steps ahead of cargo thieves,” says John Cockburn, president and CEO of Bulldog Technologies.

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