It’s going to require a much closer working relationship between the federal government and the private sector to make big strides in improving cross-border freight security, according to a range of industry experts

“Any successful effort for preventing the entry of terrorists through our air, sea or land borders will have to rely on the cooperation of foreign governments, in essence ‘pushing our borders out,’” said Steve Russell, chairman & CEO of Indianapolis-based truckload carrier Celadon Group, in recent testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security.

“This means working with Canadian and Mexican government agencies and officials in developing programs to share facilities and information systems in order to capture data prior to cargo and people arriving at our points of entry,” he said.

Russell added that the federal government should expedite similar endeavors to improve the technology and infrastructure needed to further enhance the security of cross-border operations. He said this should be done not only by continuing to support cross-border programs like C-TPAT and FAST but also by encouraging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take a lead role among Federal agencies in managing point-of-entry systems and processes.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff echoed that sentiment in a talk given at the 2007 Chemical Sector Security Summit in Falls Church, VA, this month.

“We need to share knowledge, information and intelligence about threats and vulnerabilities with our partners and our state and local officials. We need to network,” he said. “We need to take the benefit of [the private sector’s] constant learning of new risks and constant learning of new techniques to reduce vulnerability, and then we need to be able to disseminate that out and to incorporate that into our rulemaking and regulatory process.”

The technology to help make freight more secure is also more readily available than before – even south of the border. For example, General Electric recently rolled out its VeriWise tracking service in Mexico, a satellite-based technology that helps carriers monitor, manage and secure their over-the-road trailers. GE said currently more than 150,000 VeriWise units are installed on trailers in Canada, Europe and the U.S., with the technology used to help reduce wasted fuel and provide an additional layer of security to guard against cargo theft.

“VeriWise solutions can improve both the efficiency and profitability of the carriers and private fleets that support commerce across both our countries – that’s the message here,” said Kishore Shahani, CEO of GE’s Trailer Fleet Services in Mexico.

“The recognition of risk is at the cornerstone of what we do with all of our strategies and all of our plans,” according to DHS Secretary Chertoff. “We don’t want to over-regulate. We don’t want to cripple legitimate commerce. We don’t want to dampen a legitimate innovation simply in order to create an illusory sense of security. This is the key to what I call smart regulation. We have to use a combination of incentives, carrots, and sometimes some sticks, to make sure that we get the job done, and that’s going to be our philosophy moving forward.”