Meeting the Challenge
Air cargo security: Creating multi-layered solutions
- By Marc Murphy
- Dec 01, 2018
Around the world, the shipping and logistics industry
has experienced immense operational growth and
development. Consumers now expect speedier, more
reliable delivery services at the tip of their fingers. In
2018, an estimated 62.5 million tons of cargo will be
transported by air; the value of those goods will amount to more
than $6.2 trillion and represent 7.4 percent of world GDP.1 As such,
the air cargo sector has quickly become a top target for terrorists,
as billions of pounds of cargo are transported across the country
every day, mostly on commercial passenger flights. In light of this
growing threat, there is an immense need in the industry for the most
advanced screening tools and capabilities to detect potential explosive
Facing the Challenge
The challenge faced by the cargo industry today is balancing safety
concerns and screening requirements against an operational need to
minimize business disruption and financial loss. After 9/11, legislation
was enacted requiring 100 percent of cargo to be screened at the
piece level by TSA approved methods, before being loaded onto a
passenger flight. With over 650 million packages shipped globally every
day (at a value of $17.8 billion)2, the cargo industry has a critical
obligation to protect the public from security threats without hindering
operational costs and efficiencies.
For the identification of potential explosive threats, carriers have
historically relied on X-ray screening and explosive trace detection,
but these technologies have yielded costly inefficiencies. While in
years past, billions of dollars and years of research have been spent
to develop the best technologies to detect bombs, it has been found
that canines are the best and most efficient detectors for explosive
devices.3 As canines have proven to be an extremely effective tool in
screening high volumes of cargo in a timely and cost effective manner,
they represent an integral part of the solution in addressing the
cargo industry’s security screening needs.
To create best in class security for air cargo, leading security providers
are beginning to use specialized combinations of different
solutions, including explosive detection canines and X-ray scanners.
Explosive detection canines and their handlers are an extremely effective
first line of defense while scanning large amount of cargo. As
the primary source of detection, canines have proven to be versatile,
speedy and an effective medium for the screening of cargo containers
such as pallets and unit loading devices.
With a keen sense of smell, canines possess an unmatched ability
to sniff out odors and discern explosive ingredients even when
masked with other scents. Creating top-tier canines begins with rigorous
training, imprinting canines on all five families of explosives, as
well as homemade explosives.
Though not as mobile and agile as canines, X-ray scanners with
on-site screeners are a versatile resource for cargo areas and loading
docks, enabling the ability to scan and process images as small
as a handbag or as large as a tractor-trailer. Comprehensive on-site
screener training is paramount to maximizing the effectiveness of Xray
scanners for air cargo security.
Thorough initial training teaches screeners how to identify potential
threats through basic X-ray interpretation, security checkpoint
operations, basic explosives recognition/IED awareness and vehicle
search inspection training. Ongoing training is a crucial step, as a way
to share on-the-job best practices and to stay current with the ever
changing threat landscape.
Many security solutions designed for air cargo can serve multiple
applications for the package delivery space, including protecting
package sorting facilities, delivery hubs and other enterprise locations
where packages are sorted and distributed. In corporate business
settings, the combination of a canine’s nose and the technology
of X-ray scanners help to avoid misidentification and misinterpretation
of suspicious and unusual items that could lead to unnecessary
building evacuations or work interruptions.
These business delays or disruptions can be costly; in fact, a fourhour
evacuation in a major market is estimated to result in a loss of
$1.5 million due to productivity and operational costs.4 Eliminating
the misinterpretation of suspicious items with a comprehensive explosive
screening solution mitigates the risks and associated liability
in connection with potential service delays, business disruption, and
unnecessary evacuations—or in the worst situation, the mishandling
of a true IED threat.
As the cargo sector continues to be a top target for terrorists, security
vigilance is more important than ever. Through the use of effective
and efficient screening methods such as the Advanced Alarm
Resolution, the cargo industry can take the right steps to ensure the
public is protected from security threats without disrupting operational
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Security Today.