The Department of Homeland Security is investing in a host of programs,
both long and short-term, to create the perfect shipping box.
ideal solution, according to DHS officials supervising the research,
would feature some cutting-edge attributes, including the ability
to communicate any incident back to a command center, detect breaches
in any door or wall, lessen weights and embed sensors in the walls
of the crate. Also on the wish list are security systems that can
monitor the boxes within those crates, allowing officials to keep
an eye on them as they pass from port to train to truck.
“We have to make sure the domestic leg is protected,”
said Elaine Dezenski, acting assistant secretary for policy and
planning in DHS’ Border and Transportation Security Directorate.
The ambitious goal faces some obstacles. One of them is finding
an appropriate battery to power security devices. In order to match
the batteries with the pace at which cargo containers are maintained,
a battery with a 10-year life span is needed, Dezenski said.
Another obstacle, she said, is a disagreement on the way the devices
should communicate with a wider monitoring network. Also, there
is no agreement on how to handle data shared by rail, shipping and
trucking industries, despite the fact the supply chain links them
“We’re going to have a tremendous amount of work to
do on standardization,” Dezenski said.
Also lacking is a testing methodology to ensure the reliability
of detectors. “We can only tolerate less than a 1 percent
false positive rate,” she said, emphasizing the need for strict
standards and testing regimes.
The DHS container projects are in various stages of development.
The long-term solution is intended to be an Advanced Container Security
Device, which is meant to become the next-generation shipping container.
The program is expected to down-select from five contractors to
three next year, with the goal of testing prototypes by fiscal year
2007. Final testing and production are anticipated by 2008 or 2009,
according to Bob Knetl, container program manager for HSARPA (Homeland
Security Advanced Research Projects Agency).
Additional container programs include the Marine Asset Tag Tracking
System, Knetl said. This system aims to defeat a prominent problem
in maritime shipping security—the need for clear signal paths
from satellites for positioning and communications.
In maritime shipping, containers are placed on ship decks and in
holds with less than a foot between the containers on all sides.
On deck, containers can be stacked six to 20 high. Signals from
tags to satellites can be blocked. This is not as great a problem
for trucking and rail cargo, where the containers are not stacked
By the end of the year, he said, DHS program managers are expected
to approve standards for the containers’ security architecture,
a first crucial step. By 2008, production and testing of the maritime
component is expected to begin, he added.
Joint testing with rail and road systems, Knetl said, will help
the eventual push for a common tag for each mode of transport.
Policy and technology drive and influence each other in government,
Dezenski said. She stressed, however, that the private sector had
to be convinced that changing its ways or using novel devices was
cost effective. Technology, she said, could help convince shippers
to adapt to the new security paradigm.
There is ample room for improvement at several critical steps in
the supply chain, Dezenski and Knetl said. For example, the initial
packing of a carton, called “stuffing” by the shipping
industry, offers little verification of what is being placed inside.
Even in situations where the shipper has this information, it rarely
is shared with the U.S. government.
DHS officials frequently stated their intention to expand worldwide
use of radio frequency identification tagging for track shipments
at a level below the 20 foot-by-40 foot shipping container, even
down to the carton, box or item.
In pursuit of this goal, HSARPA initiated a “secure carton
initiative,” and plans to select five contractors in 2006
to produce prototypes within the next year. “Our primary goal
is to detect a tamper event,” Knetl said.
Secure cartons of various or flexible sizes, compatible with existing
ISO containers, will have a secure “skin” or boundary
that can detect tampering, an active RFID and secure information-sharing
system, a local communications capability for alerting the Advanced
Container Security Device—and through it, the National Targeting
Center—of any integrity breach.
An advanced materials container program is looking at sophisticated
composites to create a sensor-studded container that would be 30
to 50 percent lighter than current equivalents, Knetl said. That
would translate into savings for the shippers, as well as added
security, he said. It could also help sell the program to shippers
who are reluctant to take on additional cost.
“The scope of the problem, from a security standpoint, is
quite broad,” Dezenski said. “Research and development
can contribute to better policy, and vice versa.”