Cargo security vs. efficiency

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The end goals of security and efficiency are not mutually exclusive.” –Stephen Russell, chairman, CEO and founder of truckload carrier Celadon Group, from testimony this week before the House of Representatives

We all know cargo shipments of all stripes need tighter security, against theft, terrorist infiltration, and to illicitly move drugs and other narcotics around the globe. The speed bump in all this, however, is the impact on transport efficiency – something that directly impacts logistics costs.

For global and domestic supply chains built up “just-in-time” deliveries of any number of goods, delays for anything are an anathema to be avoided rigorously. Yet that of course is precisely what tighter security translates into: delays in transport until documentation is checked, cargoes inspected, etc.

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But is this necessarily so? Can tighter security and transport efficiency successfully co-exist? Stephen Russell, chairman, CEO and founder of truckload carrier Celadon Group believes they certainly can – if approached in the proper manner.

In testimony this week before the subcommittee on border, maritime and global counterterrorism –

part of the homeland security committee within the U.S. House of Representatives – thinks current cargo security programs such as the Customs–Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program for cross-border shipments, plus the wider use of the Automated Commercial Environment’s (ACE) electronic manifest system, all work very well in terms of “segregating” freight for federal agencies.

“Segregation” in this context is a good thing, because it allows federal agencies to get freight manifests ahead of time from carriers they know are following tight security rules.

Yet it also comes as no surprise, either, that there are glitches as well – the biggest being the way the physical infrastructure at border crossings, in particular, are just not designed to handle such “segregation.” Often times, commercial trucks are jammed cheek-by-jowl with everyday motorists, creeping slowly up to the border crossing point despite having CTPAT status, electronic manifests already processed, etc.

“Manufacturers, retailers, warehouses and, most importantly, consumers, continue to count on trucks to get the goods and products they need and use each and every day, transporting almost 70% of the value of freight between the U.S. and Canada, and about 80% of the value of U.S.-Mexico freight,” Russell said.

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“The biggest challenge trucking companies continue to face with the C-TPAT/FAST program is the lack of ‘true’ FAST lanes – in essence, lanes that extend far back from the port of entry, instead of FAST lanes that begin only a few yards prior to arrival at the primary inspection booth,” he explained. “This results in low-risk C-TPAT carriers being stuck in the same traffic as non-C-TPAT certified carriers. Thus, C-TPAT certified motor carriers with drivers who have undergone FAST background checks are not getting the benefits that were promised for investing to comply with the program.”

“The big benefit touted by these programs was that, once approved, carriers could more quickly pass through border checkpoints,” Martin Rojas, director of international affairs for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) told me. “At most border crossing points, you don’t get that ‘segregation’ until literally a few yards before the inspection station. We think that process should begin farther back – maybe 500 yards; maybe a mile. The thing is to keep low-risk, approved cargoes moving – and not have them mixed in with everything else.”

“Though it is impossible to achieve absolute security without bringing trade to a standstill, we can greatly reduce the potential of being targeted by our enemies by managing risk, increasing security awareness among company personnel, and implementing simple cost-effective security measures,” added Celadon’s Russell.

“Establishing the necessary infrastructure, both physical – i.e. ‘bricks and mortar’ – and implementing technologies helps improve the clearance and throughput of trade with the highest standards of security,” he noted. “For example, through the use of non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems, x-rays and gamma rays are used to capture images of any anomalies within our commercial vehicles. Such technological advances and tools have improved CBP [Customs & Border Patrol] officers’ enforcement capabilities while improving the efficiency and throughput of commercial vehicles across our borders.”

Russell also said that new addendums to the ACE manifest program, such as CBP’s International Trade Data System (ITDS) program, will help streamline to documentation process for cross-border cargo further while improving security.

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The ITDS concept is simple, he pointed out: Traders and carriers submit commercially based, standard electronic data records through a single federal gateway for the import or export of goods. As a single information gateway, ITDS distributes these records to the interested federal trade agencies, such as CBP, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), DOT and others, for their selectivity and risk assessment.

In standardizing the process, ITDS reduces the confusion and complexity of international trade, and speeds the processing of goods, equipment and crews across borders, while giving the government more current and accurate information for revenue, public health, statistical analyses, safety and security activities, as well as significantly reducing data processing development and maintenance costs.

“The development and implementation of the ACE/ITDS is an essential component in accelerating the flow of commerce while also improving the ability of CBP to analyze and target data entries,” Russell said.

These are all good points, highlighting initiatives that could turn the age-old “cargo security versus efficiency” conflict safely and securely on its head.

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