A Secure Voyage

System helps detect unauthorized cargo container door openings and tracks location of international containers

WITH port security as a topic of increasing national concern in the United States, a discussion about emerging technologies that can help secure cargo and, therefore, ports themselves cannot be more timely. In fact, the issue is so pressing that an early release of GE's CommerceGuard cargo container security technology took place in March, with a high-volume release scheduled for July.

The problems are monumental. The worldwide container trade moves more than 60 million containers annually based on statistics from industry analysts Drewry Shipping Consultants. The GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, proposed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) to improve cargo security, cites four findings that underscore America's vulnerability through maritime commerce:

  • Maritime vessels are the primary mode of transportation for international trade and carry more than 80 percent of international trade by volume.

  • Daily, nearly 27,000 shipping containers came into the United States in 2004.

  • Costs associated with U.S. port closures from a detonated terrorist weapon are estimated to add up to $1 trillion.

  • Containerized trade is a significant security vulnerability for the United States, with maritime or surface transportation providing more opportunities than aviation to do harm.

Until now, cargo security has consisted of a simple bolt seal on the outside of the shipping container. With technology that is becoming available now, containers can be protected against illicit activities such as terrorism, smuggling and theft.

A Secure System
The CommerceGuard container security system is a global, cost-efficient system that puts intrusion detection inside a container. The system integrates electronic container security devices within a global information network that tracks freight containers as they move through a supply chain. Tamper alerts are automatically routed to appropriate authorities, shippers and other authorized users who can access the tracking information using a secure Internet portal on any personal computer.

The heart of the system is a container security device (CSD) that snaps onto the doorjamb of a standard international cargo container and registers any opening of the container doors. Fixed and handheld readers relay the CSD's status to a secure database that can be accessed by authorized importers, shippers and government officials anywhere in the world. If a container has been breached, the server sends an alert to appropriate government and industry officials.

Such a technology also means there is not only security, but visibility as a container moves through the supply chain, resulting in increased return on investment for cargo owners. Shippers who know where their containers are at?or who know when they don't show up on schedule?are better able to plan inventory. Such available information decreases administrative expenses and provides potentially faster movement through the supply chain when customs incentives are provided for secured freight.

Point-to-Point Visibility
Knowledge is power. Visibility of container movements brings valued data to cargo owners. Point-to-point tracking data is the most effective and economical way to gain critical information about freight movements. Key chokepoints in the supply chain tend to be the places where cargo changes hands -- when it is sealed and leaves the factory dock or when it enters a port -- boards a ship and is removed from the ship to enter the United States.

Shippers with online access to this information can tightly manage inventory levels. They know immediately when an expected shipment has not passed a chokepoint, thus getting a head start on troubleshooting efforts, restricting the search to the location between two chokepoints and within a known timeframe. Shippers' costs are decreased for managing, tracking and securing their shipments.

About the Author

Leslie Thomas writes on the applications of technology to business issues for a wide range of publications.


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