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Port security: KM expedites commerce, thwarts terrorism

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 10]


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By Judith Lamont Security at U.S. seaports has been of growing concern during the past decade, and particularly since the attacks of 9/11. More than 6 million containers come through U.S. ports per year, but only a small percent are inspected. Although procedures are in place to identify and inspect high-risk shipments, most industry and government organizations readily acknowledge that there is much room for improvement. Port operators, shippers and retailers are cooperating among themselves and with government organizations to provide better tracking and monitoring of containers. Not only does such information help protect shipments from terrorism; it also expedites normal business operations. However, collecting and managing the data requires a sophisticated combination of devices and software to determine the location, contents and movement of shipping containers. That data must in turn be integrated with other information such as who has access rights to various areas of the port. By combining the collected data with business rules governing the shipments and access to them, the software also can provide warnings about a variety of potential problems. One of the enabling technologies for container security is the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. The technology has been used for many years in retail stores for tagging high-end items, and by railroads for tracking their rail cars. It is now finding more widespread use in shipping and within stores. The tags operate actively or passively to send out a signal that can be picked up on a reader. They can be attached to a container and send an alert if the seal is tampered with, for example. An RFID device also can be embedded in an ID card to trigger an alert if a maintenance person enters an unauthorized area or even overstays his or her shift in an authorized area. Biometrics technology also plays an important role, providing a more robust means of verifying identity than passwords or smart cards alone. Savi Technology developed an integrated solution a decade ago for the Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure supply chain integrity in its container shipments. The key components are its SmartSeal electronic seals, which use Savi's EchoPoint RFID technology; readers that receive the signals from the RFID devices; servers that store the collected information; and software that aggregates and analyzes the data. In addition, the system uses a Universal Data Appliance Protocol (UDAP), which provides a common language translator for data collection hardware such as RFID, GPS, biometric devices and barcode scanners. Its solution is now available to commercial shippers. Because the system presents a real-time view of what is happening throughout the supply chain, it also serves broader business needs. The system could flag a container that was not loaded on schedule or was routed incorrectly. That type of signal could indicate a security problem, but might also be simply an error that the shipper or receiver would want to know about for planning purposes. "In the commercial world, you can only have just-in-time delivery if you know where everything is," says Bruce Jacquemard, executive VP and GM of Savi's Global Field Operations. In fact, he points out, the shipping phase can function like a virtual warehouse, reducing storage costs as well as steps in product handling. "Knowing exactly where all the parts are that go into a manufactured item is valuable information," he notes. The data also feeds into legacy systems to assist in decision making and strategic planning. The UDAP is XML-based, allowing for flexibility in adding future sensors and other information collection devices, and for integration across disparate databases. Failure to comply with trade regulations can cost companies time and money, as well as undermine security. Vastera provides a family of solutions that manage the trade process. Its TradeSphere Event Manager solution provides a view of a company's orders and shipments, and its TradeSphere Exporter and Importer solutions monitor compliance with international trade laws of countries throughout the world. Because regulations change frequently, the rules within those modules are updated regularly with information culled by Vastera experts throughout the world. TradePrism.com allows companies to screen prospective recipients of shipments. Offered by Vastera for nearly a decade, the software aids exporters in complying with newly passed laws that require them to avoid doing business with terrorist organizations and entities that funnel money to terrorists. Proper documentation can improve the flow of goods and help importers avoid fines. "Customs officials can approve shipments more readily when the entire shipment history can be seen," says George Weise, VP of Global Trade Compliance at Vastera. Delays are costly to retailers and manufacturers; if companies don't know when an imported shipment will arrive, they must maintain a higher inventory to cover its needs, or risk not being able to fulfill orders. Weise, who was commissioner of U.S. Customs from 1993 to 1997, is acutely aware of the difficulties on the government side of managing a growing workload with a shrinking staff. "Better use of technology and information management is an important component of enhancing transportation security," he says. For example, Customs now receives most Entries (the documents required to clear Customs) electronically. Industry-government partnerships are also playing a more significant role in ensuring port security. In a new initiative called the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), shippers will commit to implementing best practices at every step of the supply chain. Those shipments will be then be classified as low risk, and expedited. The Smart and Secure Tradelanes (SST) is a broad effort designed to improve container security and tracking. It reflects the principles espoused by C-TPAT and several other maritime security initiatives. Because 70% of the world's port management activities are concentrated among just three companies, building out the infrastructure is feasible, though no small task. It will be based on the DoD infrastructure that Savi helped to develop, and initially rolled out in Seattle. Other partners include SAIC (saic.com), which builds and manages port security systems, and Qualcomm (qualcomm.com), a leader in mobile fleet management using satellite and GPS systems. The United States today faces the dual challenges of stimulating a lagging economy and enhancing homeland security. Sometimes these two goals seem to be in conflict, with greater security measures slowing trade and increasing costs. But in the case of port security, knowledge management can help achieve both goals simultaneously. Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.


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