Meeting the Challenge

Air cargo security: Creating multi-layered solutions

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 threats.

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 efficiency.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Security Today.

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