Efforts to tighten security at the nation's 301 ports have had some unexpected consequences for the truckers that provide drayage service, largely resulting in long delays to gain security clearance. Some of the security enhancement efforts have also run into resistance from shippers and ocean carriers as well, slowing down efforts to close what some feel is a major security gap in the transportation network of the United States.
Earlier this year, the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) awarded $92.3 million in grants to 51 ports located throughout the U.S. in an effort to improve security both at the ports themselves and at related facilities.
Port security grants totaling $78 million are funding enhanced facility and operational security, with another $5 million providing for security assessments at ports and terminals to evaluate vulnerabilities and correct security gaps. Finally, some $9.3 million is funding "proof-of-concept" projects, to explore the use of new technology, such as electronic seals, vessel tracking, and electronic notification of vessel arrivals, to improve maritime security, said DOT.
What is bedeviling truckers is the widening array of credentials now being required from drivers in order for them to enter port locations and pick up freight, largely because there are no regulations in place to harmonize credential requirements for all of the ports. Consequently, ports are developing credential and identification requirements separately from each other, along with differences fostered by local, county, and state governments, according to the American Trucking Assns.
As an example of what's happening to truckers at ports, Phil Byrd, president & CEO of intermodal and truckload carrier Bulldog Hiway Express, highlighted his company's experience in Florida in testimony on Capitol Hill earlier this year.
Byrd said that a trucking company operating in all 14 ports in Florida must now have all of its drivers undergo 14 separate fingerprint-based criminal history checks using differing criteria to determine whether that driver will receive 14 separate identification badges for port access.
He noted that the cost for the criminal history check and badge for one driver is $74 at the Port of Jacksonville and the badge is only good for one year. Further, each year hereafter, the driver must undergo an additional name check with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before being issued a badge – at a cost of $25.
"It is impossible to predict which driver will be picking up or delivering a particular load, thus we would have to pay for all 200 drivers to go through the criminal history check process three separate times," Byrd said. "If the ports have materially different access criteria, we would have the further complexity of trying to track who is authorized to enter which port. Simply put, this situation is untenable. We no longer do business at the Florida ports. Unfortunately, the problem is spreading."
On another front, the U.S. Customs Service has been stymied in its efforts to step up inspections of the 5.7 million ocean freight containers that enter the country every year via 214,000 ships. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner has sought to get ocean carriers to submit cargo manifests to Customs inspectors 24 hours before the cargo is loaded into containers – rather than submitting them two days before the containers arrive.
Shippers have fought that effort because they feel it would be expensive, slow down delivery times, and expose their shipments to a higher risk of cargo theft. Yet the U.S. Customs Service and other supply chain experts have said this year that tightening inspections of container traffic is necessary, despite the costs and risk of delays.
"The characteristics of an efficient, lean, high-velocity global supply chain – openness, ubiquity, diversity, agility – are also why it is an extremely attractive target for terrorists," said Vikram Verma, president & CEO of Sunnyvale, CA-based Savi Technology, a supply chain security company. "The physical infrastructure supporting global freight transportation is vast and poses a tremendous challenge to effectively monitor, safeguard and control from point of origin to destination."
Verma warned in testimony before the Seante this year that the potential to use global shipping containers to transport weapons of mass destruction is real and should not be discounted.
"The container security threat is real. It is both accessible and can be destroyed or leveraged to create maximum societal and economic disruption and damage. Candidly, I believe the global supply chain is the prime target and in its present state it is especially vulnerable to terrorist attack," he said in his testimony.
"This threat is systemic, meaning that simple solutions designed to prevent point attacks only or to provide 100% inspection at the U.S. will not work for the entire supply chain," Verma said. "Though extremely complex, we must look at the problem holistically - and put in place a security system that is capable of detecting, monitoring and preventing the threat at the point of origin before it hits our ports in the U.S."
He added that means effective intelligence, deterrence, detection, and response capabilities are required to secure the global supply chain.
"These capabilities however must be delivered through an integrated, systems-based approach that spans policy, security procedures, business practices and technology," Verma said.