Supply-Chain Security Update

Nov. 1, 2006
A quick look at U.S. government programs and technoogy monitoring today's global supply chains.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin said, "Two people can keep a secret, but only if one of them is dead." Today, over 250 years later, with electronic communication and multiple, intertwining partnerships across international borders, security is more challenging and important than it's ever been.

And while security might be a core function of government, the burden of supply-chain security, at least it's implementation, falls in large part on the business community. Speaking at this year's HK Systems (Milwaukee) Material Handling and Logistics Conference, Tom Ridge, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that inspecting all of the containers coming into the United States is not possible.

"That's why it is incumbent upon the business community to take the initiative when it comes to security; to be sure containers coming into and out of this country have not been tampered with," said Ridge in response to a question.

Here's a brief overview of two government security programs that that are being supported by the business community, and some examples of RFID-based security applications.

Shippers in control
Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) is a government-business initiative designed to build cooperative relationships that strengthen supply-chain and border security. Lead by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it is the largest government-private sector partnership to emerge from the rubble of 9/11. CTPAT was launched in November 2001, with seven companies. There are now more than 7,400 companies enrolled, including importers, customs brokers, terminal operators, carriers and foreign manufacturers.

Since the beginning, participation has been voluntary with jointly developed security criteria, best practices and implementation procedures. In exchange for participation, CBP provides reduced inspections at ports of arrival and expedited processing at borders. Once companies join the C-TPAT program, they can participate in other initiatives that allow them to take control of their compliance with government security requirements. The Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) program is one such initiative. ISA is another building block in the invisible wall being constructing to secure the nation's perimeter. Under this joint government-industry initiative, businesses conduct assessments of their own supply chain—trucks, drivers, cargo, suppliers and routes—according to particular security guidelines.

Under the ISA program, importers with a track record—that have demonstrated high levels of cooperation with government requirements—can take charge of their own compliance without scheduled CBP audits or other government intrusion. This kind of exchange also helps the government by maximizing the use of CBP's resources and allows the agency to focus on areas or companies that present greater risk.

Companies that want to participate in the ISA program must first be members of C-TPAT. They sign a Memorandum of Understanding with CBP in which they agree to comply with all applicable CBP laws and regulations. This includes establishing and maintaining rigorous records systems that demonstrate the accuracy of all CBP transactions. It also means establishing, implementing, and testing their internal security processes regularly, making adjustments when and where necessary.

In exchange for putting these measures in place, companies realize several benefits. Program participants are exempt from comprehensive external audits. They also can call on the expertise of Office of Strategic Trade (OST, which is part of the U.S. Customs Service) for security best practices, risk assessment and data analysis.

Deborah Spero, assistant commissioner of OST, says, "Perhaps one of ISA's greatest rewards is that it offers far more business certainty. Without potential audits or other forms of government oversight, importers can focus on improving their core business and the efficiency of their own processes."

Special Security Agent: RFID
Effectively monitoring cargo containers in huge ports requires more than visual inspection and vigilant employees. Savi Networks LLC (Sunnyvale, Calif.), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. (Bethesda, Md.) and Hutchison Port Holdings (Hong Kong), operates a global information network that uses automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) equipment and software to provide shippers with information about the identity, location and status of ocean cargo containers. The system that Savi has deployed in Virginia, at port terminals in Norfolk, Newport News and Portsmouth, is compatible with international RFID standards (ISO 18000-7).

At these ports SaviTrak, the company's Web-based information service, will be used to deliver real-time information collected by the network infrastructure. The information service is integrated with an open technology platform that receives and processes realtime data feeds from RFID devices as well as other AIDC technologies, such as barcodes, EPC-compliant passive tags and global positioning systems used to track ships and trucks.

In another security application for RFID, the U.S. National Guard is using the technology to track supplies at armories and deployed operations. Spread among each state's Joint Force Headquarters, along with Guard units in the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, are 54 deployment kits, 5,400 active RFID tags and 120 mobile handheld readers. These kits integrate various automatic data collection technologies such as bar codes, active RFID and GPS communication. They will enable Guard units throughout the United States and its territories to better locate, track and manage RFID-tagged supplies and equipment. Used for disaster relief as well and homeland security, the kits will communicate with the U.S. Department of Defense's global In-Transit Visibility cargo tracking network to provide the National Guard mobile capability to assign and track assets throughout the United States.

Latest from Technology & Automation