Supply Chain Security Never Sleeps

We shouldn't be surprised when systems work as planned. That's what happened in August when British authorities moved to round up suspects in a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft. The headline-grabbing news was one very visible manifestation of transportation security and counter-terrorist measures that are the result of a massive amount of effort and cross-border cooperation.

Reinforcing this view is a comment by the Airforwarders Association (www.airforwarders.org) that air cargo security does not depend on a one-shot machine inspection that can easily be circumvented. Instead, there are a series of security components at work throughout the supply chain. The general public sees very few of these and usually only in exaggerated headlines worrying over gaps and risks.

Fortunately, reality is not in the headlines. Aside from logistics professionals, who would read a story headlined "Today 7,500 Tons of Cargo Flew on Passenger Aircraft Without Incident"?

U.S. ports handle over 11 million containers a year. That would be 55 to 60 million containers since the terror attacks in 2001. Again, these millions of containers were moved without incident. Programs such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) are clearly helping, as are the efforts of every logistics professional.

None of these are static programs, nor should they be. The needs change constantly, and security measures must also change and adapt to new threats and counter measures.

Domestic air operations receive comparable security to international flights, but efforts to improve domestic supply chain security have lagged. Some of this is due to resources. With port security needs still under-funded, it is difficult to push security mandates further along the supply chain. There are private sector efforts to do so, even without government mandate. One such effort scored a victory with passage of the SAFE Ports Act.

Domestic third parties and public warehouse operations feel they can now apply for C-TPAT registration based on the inclusion of "contract logistics providers and other entities" and components of the intermodal transportation system in section 212 of Subtitle B of the Act. The International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA), which lobbied for inclusion, says it expects Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to develop eligibility standards for those categories as it did for customs brokers in the past.

Extending C-TPAT overseas is tougher. The National Retail Federation says using third-party auditors to validate C-TPAT compliance presents problems because foreign governments don't want U.S. officials auditing local firms. If in-country audits must be conducted by local auditors it opens the program to charges of outsourcing security—not likely to play well after the Dubai Ports World debacle in the United States. It also potentially puts sensitive company information at risk, say retailers, an argument directed at some U.S. security programs as well. If companies were concerned CBP would allow public access to data the Commerce Department formerly kept confidential, they are even more concerned when entrusting the data to a foreign government.

Security requires relentless vigilance, but it appears that same attitude applies to the various rules, regulations and programs that support supply chain security.

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