Port security efforts target cargo containers

Several federal agencies are testing security initiatives to plug gaps in cargo transit to prevent containers from being used illegally to transport drugs, people or weapons.

More than 7 million cargo containers arrive in U.S. seaports each year, the Transportation Security Administration has said. A typical international trade transaction involves 25 parties and 30 documents, which makes it complicated to keep track of what's coming into the country.

The government is trying to meet this challenge by raising the level of scrutiny of cargo containers and port facilities close to that at international airports.

These efforts include security initiatives to screen cargo containers before they reach U.S. shores and to certify transportation workers who unload ships and truck cargo.

Ports are also testing how to integrate data coming from devices that track containers through the supply chain, so officials can decipher unusual events or patterns.

The Transportation Department's Maritime Administration and shippers are testing tamper-resistant electronic seals for containers. The Customs and Border Protection Bureau's Container Security Initiative is expanding the number of foreign ports that identify and search high-risk cargo containers destined for U.S. ports. TSA is funding several port security projects, including construction of new command and control centers.

TSA recently released $28 million in grants for Operation Safe Commerce to develop and assess technologies that monitor cargo movement. The technology is being tested at ports in Seattle and Los Angeles and by the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey, which altogether take in about 75 percent of the large cargo containers entering the United States.

Ports participating in Operation Safe Commerce are testing software and security processes. Among the initiatives are methods for processing ship manifest data, tracking containers in real time and applying electronic seals to containers to detect tampering, said Beth Rooney, security director at the New York-New Jersey Port Authority.

'Next summer, we will recommend to TSA what works best,' she said.

Coffee test

The NY-NJ Port Authority selected Unisys Corp. to test processes, personnel training and incursion detection technologies on one of Sara Lee Corp.'s coffee trade routes.

Unisys plans to focus its security effort at Sara Lee's Brazilian coffee-manufacturing site. It will monitor the shipper's cargo containers while at sea and on trucks en route to the U.S. roasting facility.

'The trick is how you integrate all this talking to the command and control center. There are no integrated systems or processes that manage security,' said Grant McKinstry of Unisys.

Unisys will use its business blueprinting system to develop models that link business processes to the systems that support them.

GreenLine Systems of San Francisco will provide its risk management software to assess supply chain security and screen shipments, McKinstry said.

The system is built on Microsoft.Net technology using a BizTalk server. Data resides in a Microsoft SQL Server database.

TSA also is testing its huge smart-card project, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC.

Tests began last month with small groups at the Philadelphia and Los Angeles international airports, said Paul Hunter, TSA's operations manager and deputy director of the TWIC project.

TWIC will provide common credentials across all modes of transportation for workers who need access to secure areas.

A prototype this fall will involve more than 10,000 workers, Hunter said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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