Layered Cargo Screening How Does It Compare to 100%?

Published Aug 2, 2011 4:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

By Peter Kant, Executive Vice President, Rapiscan Systems

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made an announcement that surprised no one in the cargo and maritime industries – starting in 2012, the DHS would no longer mandate 100 percent cargo screening at ports. While 100 percent cargo screening is decidedly achievable and has been effectively implemented at many ports across the world (including the Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico), the requirements seemed too daunting and unattainable to many smaller ports, thus the revised mandate.

Despite the fact that the stance change was expected, questions abound, primarily: “Will we be as safe in 2012 as we are now?”

It’s an important question to ask.  With 100 percent screening, the safety of the port and its environs is obvious – every container, regardless of origin and contents, is scanned for potential threats.  But the new stance holds no such guarantee, leading to the notion that ports will be more vulnerable to cargo-borne threats beginning in 2012.  While not 100 percent screening, industry watchers can be assured that the new DHS approach will be effective, due in part to its effective use of “layered” security.

Safety Through Layers

“Layered” refers to a security process that looks something like an onion; each peel represents a different level of intelligence gathering, analysis and screening. The outer skin of the onion, for example, represents not the port of origin, but rather the origin of the cargo, the logistics company and the manufacturer.  Each additional layer adds a level of scrutiny to each aspect of transit, tightening a net around potential threats.

The point of the DHS mandate is not to worsen an already bad global security climate, but rather to lower the point-of-entry for ports when it comes to security, both financially and logistically.  While 100 percent cargo screening is highly effective and realistic implementation-wise, ports struggling with budget gaps may simply disregard the strategy as too expensive or labor intensive and fail to put any kind of security plan into place at all.. The driving force behind the DHS’ layered approach is to make security achievable for all ports across the board while improving stakeholder buy-in, whether it’s logistics companies, transporters or port authorities.

Further supporting the DHS plan is the idea of security tiers.  Rather than scanning every container to come through every U.S. port, security officials will instead group shipments into several categories along the lines of “high risk,” “normal” and “trusted.”  This mirrors the long-discussed Trusted Traveler program from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), only with cargo instead of people.

“Trusted Cargo” Program?

This new approach shows a DHS move away from the “scan everything” model to a more globally-integrated security model. Rather than trying to react to cargo-based threats, the DHS will now look at the entire cargo ecosystem from a security standpoint.  This means that all aspects of the shipping process, from the warehouse where the container is loaded and the land-based carrier to the port of origin and the cargo operator, will be examined for each individual container, enabling the DHS to place various cargo shipments within the “high-risk,”  “normal” or “trusted” security scanning buckets.

To break this down further, high-risk cargo would be from an unknown shipper, a shipper that has experienced security issues in the past (either problems with their cargo or at their facilities) or from a port of origin that is a known source of cargo-borne threats.  As such, cargo classified as high-risk would undergo deeper screening procedures, potentially even going so far as to be hand-checked.  Normal cargo would be from standard shippers and transporters and the scanning procedure would be the de facto benchmark for the new screening process.  Finally, the safe class of cargo (or “Trusted Cargo” to be glib), would be from known/frequent shippers or transport companies that have willingly undergone evaluations of their facilities and equipment by the DHS or port agencies – this status would allow their cargo to speed through checkpoint scans as it has been verified safe, making this a tantalizing value-add for logistics agencies looking to increase their bottom line.

Nuts and Bolts

When it comes to the actual technologies involved in the new world of cargo scanning, not much will change, primarily due to the fact that the security industry has been building screening technologies to fit layered security models for several years.  Additionally, many of the cargo scanning solutions developed today are done so with high levels of flexibility in mind, which fits perfectly with the new DHS model.  These scanning solutions tend to be modular and “gantry-style” for high cargo throughput to speed up security queues, along with multiple styles of scanning, from standard X-rays to nuclear/radiation detection, which can be added or redacted as needed.

From a process perspective, the DHS’s layered cargo screening approach will look something like the following:

1. A shipper in Port A prepares a cargo shipment bound for Port B in the United States.  Before the cargo is even loaded onto the ship, an assessment of the cargo and the shipper is conducted to determine what risk level the company is as well as the origin/nature of the cargo.

2. While the cargo is en route to Port B, several automated systems send the results of the assessment to the Port B authorities as well as the DHS – this allows them to determine the nature of the cargo, the port of origin and the shipper/cargo status.

3. The Port B authorities and the DHS then do a deeper data analysis on the shipper, as well as Port A and the cargo itself, looking for any potential patterns in past, current or known cargo-borne threats.  This allows the authorities to evaluate and tweak various risk levels before the vessel arrives in the port (for example, moving a normal risk shipper to high risk based on region-specific threats).

4. The vessel arrives at Port B and the cargo is unloaded.  A cargo scan of varying intensities is then conducted based on the various risk levels ascertained before the ship docked, as well as a manifest check to ensure that the cargo matches its declaration.

Threats Change; So Should Security

The DHS’ stance change is a response to the ever-evolving state of world security – as threats adapt to slip through security measures, screening approaches must react, regardless of the industry.  While 100 percent cargo screening remains a viable and very realistic option, a layered approach, which relies in part on technology and in part on intelligence and logistics, allows ports of all sizes to improve security dramatically overhauling day-to-day operations or existing screening solutions.  But whether ports commit to 100 percent scanning or adopt the DHS’ new layered approach, security needs to remain a paramount concern.


MarEx does not necessarily endorse any opinions herein.