A Dozen Ways to Reduce Shipment Security Threats

Dec. 16, 2013

Goods travel around the world 24 hours a day through today’s global supply chains. They’re packaged and transported by air, rail, sea or truck. As supply chain networks grow more complex, so too does the ability to secure these channels.

In fact, FreightWatch International—a global logistics security services company that aims to mitigate risks associated with cargo theft—reports that for the third consecutive year in the U.S., food and beverages were the product type most often stolen in 2012, accounting for 19 percent of all cargo theft, followed by metals and electronics.

As the shipping industry faces cargo theft and facility security risk, guidelines must be established and communicated to employees and customers. The following general guidelines and fundamental security practices will help to ensure that a company’s employees, facilities and vehicles are adequately secured to reduce the risk of assets being obtained for criminal purposes. 

  1. Stay alert. Be aware of possible surveillance being conducted on your facility’s operation.  Watch for signs such as vehicles parked outside your facility or within view of the facility, individuals with cameras (still or video) or taking notes outside your facility, unauthorized personnel inside the facility or walking the perimeter, or vehicles (usually mini-vans or SUVs, especially those with two or more occupants) that appear to be following your drivers. 
  2. Respond quickly. Because criminals can move stolen goods quickly, it is essential that all suspicious or criminal activity is quickly reported to management and law enforcement officials.  Respond to every alarm.  Frequent “false alarms,” including attempted entries or break-ins into the facility, may be a sign that suspicious individuals are testing the facility security system and law enforcement response times.
  3. Protect information. Do not share information on cargo or operations with anyone except those involved in the operation and limit load information within the facility to parties who have a need to know the information.  Maintain inventory control. Unusual changes in inventory levels may help to alert when something is awry.
  4. Know your supply chain.  Know the carrier and driver that are scheduled to pick-up your cargo and verify their identity before a load is released.  Monitor delivery schedules and routes, treat suspiciously any overdue shipments or out of route journeys. Review the security of your supply chain partners and know where your cargo will stop along its route. 
  5. Execute basic safety practices.  Keep trucks locked and park them in an organized manner on a well-lit facility lot.  Ensure alarm systems are functioning properly, and monitored by a central station that has updated contact information.  Ensure your central station is capable of detecting telephone line interruptions. Communicate to driver teams that one person must remain with the vehicle at all times. Review security at your site regularly (i.e. windows, doors, locks, etc.) and quickly address maintenance and repair items.  Leverage technology options such as electronic badge systems - which make it easier for managers to effectively administer site access without having to assign and control keys - and video surveillance systems that focus on high-quality images of critical control points.

  6. Screen and train employees. Often cargo theft is perpetrated with inside help. Rigorous pre-employment screening will help weed out those most likely to steal merchandise from a warehouse, loading dock, or truck.  After screening, communicate security awareness information and location-specific security rules to employees and carriers.  And regularly provide security training covering basic topics such as their role in the security system, how to report security incidents, and how to recognize internal conspiracies and suspicious activities.
  7. Investigate low-tech security technologies. Purchasing low-tech options such as locks and seals can help secure assets. King Pin locks prevent another tractor from coupling with a trailer; air brake valve locks prevent the release of air brakes; and glad hand locks lock the airline on a trailer. Indicative seals can be used to indicate whether tampering has occurred; security seals provide limited resistance to intrusion and require light-weight tools to remove; and high security seals, constructed of metal or a metal cable, require heavy-duty tools to remove.
  8. Use tamper-evident technology. It is not uncommon for thieves to remove doors and hinges to access cargo areas without breaking the seal.  Therefore, seals must be coupled with a thorough conveyance inspection process to determine whether tampering has occurred or an intrusion was attempted.  In addition, careful tracking and confirmation of seal numbers must be completed at the beginning and ending of each trip to ensure that seals are not broken and replaced.
  9. Sharpen supply chain visibility. Advances in technology have also improved the ability of businesses and law enforcement to prevent cargo theft and recover stolen merchandise.  In fact, the demand from businesses and the general public for visibility in the supply chain has helped drive the availability of technologies that can track shipments and identify the location of a delivery.  Many of these technologies rely on GPS tracking to determine the location of a vehicle.  Telematics, or vehicle communications, also provide real time delivery data. RFID and barcode scanning can provide item level detail.  Finally, hand held devices can provide an electronic proof of delivery.  All of these technologies, which are designed to provide supply chain visibility, provide added security benefits by creating an electronic data trail.
  10. Establish truck route barriers. Geofencing is a concept used to draw a virtual barrier around a vehicle’s route.  If the vehicle travels outside of this barrier, a security alarm is sent a warning of a possible theft.  Geofencing can also be used to alert fleet owners when a vehicle enters high-risk areas and known delivery locations.
  11. Screen supply chain partners. It’s important that the legitimacy of every new carrier is verified, including independently validating information submitted by new carriers. The information submitted by a carrier should be compared with information obtained from independent sources such as yellow pages, internet searches and DOT profiles.  Once you’ve established the legitimate contact at the carrier, call to confirm they are asking to be set-up as a carrier, and validate their information. If you release loads to brokers, be aware that it is not uncommon for carriers to broker or assign loads to other carriers without the shipper’s knowledge.  It’s up to the shipper to decide whether this type of activity will be allowed and how best to insulate themselves from fraudulent activities through contract language. With respect to driver verification, it is important that you request pre-arrival information (such as the driver’s name, vehicle number and arrival time) from the assigned carrier.  Be suspicious of drivers who arrive hours ahead of their appointment, as this may be an imposter.  Dispatchers that are releasing loads to drivers should contact the carrier if the information they were provided does not match the driver or carrier that arrives to pick up a load.  Shippers can also take steps to ensure that the driver’s license is legitimate.  A reference book with verifying information for government issued IDs can help spot false credentials.  An ultra-violet flashlight can verify hidden watermarks that are embedded on most government issued IDs.
  12. Develop digital documentation. Capturing digital images of drivers using CCTV or taking digital still photos can also deter criminal activity.  Dispatchers can even use inkless fingerprint pads to have the drivers leave their thumbprint on shipping documents retained by the shipper.  While these steps may not directly prevent a fraudulent pick up, they can greatly aid in the investigation.

In addition to preventing theft, making investments in security to address the areas covered in this article, will ultimately improve supply chain efficiency, customer satisfaction, and bottom line results.

Bill Anderson is the Group Director – International Safety, Health and Security for Ryder (www.ryder.com).  In this position, he is responsible for directing Ryder’s global security function and leading its international safety, health and security team.

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