The United States in recent years has devoted enormous effort and expense to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The key challenge has been to balance expenditures, performance, profit, and timeliness with a level of security that factors in the potential costs of a terrorist attack, concludes a study by the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Because transportation is such a vital and inextricable element of U.S. economic health, this has been a difficult balancing act.
The ICAF study looked at various sectors of the U.S. transportation system and identified various issues with which the government and industry are still grappling.
Aviation clearly has been a major focus since 9/11. However, the emphasis on passenger security has left the air cargo system a more vulnerable and likely target for terrorists. It is estimated that air cargo shipments will increase from current levels by 50 percent domestically and more than 110 percent internationally by 2016. The 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007 contains a provision that would require physical inspection of 100 percent of cargo placed on passenger aircraft by the end of fiscal year 2009, but this is a contentious issue.
The air cargo industry has largely opposed this plan because of the costs and potential delays involved, arguing instead for a risk-based approach to cargo screening that is already in use by Dutch customs in cooperation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Trucking safety and security is managed through a variety of regulatory means. The Commercial Motor Vehicles Safety Act limits tractor-trailer licenses to individuals who can pass physical and written examinations and who do not have criminal records and driving violations. Homeland security measures intersect significantly with the trucking industry at seaports and border crossings. For example, truck drivers who transport goods to and from ports will soon be required to hold a Transportation Worker Identification Credential.
The TWIC initiative will require a security threat assessment and the receipt of a biometric credential for such drivers. However, this initiative is currently behind schedule and port operators express doubt about DHS’ ability to efficiently implement the program.
Other homeland security efforts are focused on truck cargo transiting through air and sea ports. U.S. ports use radiological and X-ray screening of trucked containers that transit through their facilities. The voluntary Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) is intended to bolster security with certain U.S. trading partners through teams that assess supply chain security risks associated with goods moving through those ports. Other proposed solutions include the use of intelligent seals that transmit signals when broken.
For railroads, there have also been heightened security concerns in the post 9/11 environment. Radio frequency identification (RFID) devices provide a means of tracking railcars throughout the country. Passive RFID devices that can be tracked as they pass scanners along rail tracks have gained widespread use in the United States. Active RFID devices that transmit their real-time location are currently not widely used.
The Rail and Public Transportation Security Act that is pending in Congress requires DHS and Department of Transportation to work together in defining a strategic vision for the homeland security aspects of rail. This act also authorizes funding of rail security exercises, security research and development, and an increase in the number of security inspectors.
Maritime shipping is another area of increasing security focus. Finding an appropriate balance between container security and maintaining the free flow of goods from overseas is the core dilemma. Measures such as the C-TPAT and the Container Security Initiative are examples of attempts at closing gaps in security. The United States continues to press the nations with which it trades to enact more stringent security measures, in cooperation with the International Maritime Organization, World Trade Organization, and other institutions.
Meanwhile, the challenge of securing ports is daunting. Annually, about 11 million containers arrive by sea, and CBP officials closely inspect fewer than 10 percent of them. Since 9/11, there have been improvements. CBP has created an automated targeting program that checks the manifests of shipments headed to the United States for anomalies and tags a suspect shipment as high risk. One security initiative being debated is a U.S. proposal for 100 percent inspection of U.S.-bound sea cargo. European and other governments are cautiously supportive of this initiative. But port operators, retail shippers, and other stakeholders are not convinced that this approach is operationally feasible or technically reliable. They are concerned that unacceptably high costs and disruptions to international commerce could occur.
Among other security proposals, the Maritime Security Transportation Act (MSTA) was created to provide security measures and includes regulatory procedures addressing passengers, vehicle and baggage screening, security controls, the establishment of restricted areas, personnel identification, access control and installation of surveillance equipment.
Alan L. Gropman is a distinguished professor of national security policy at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University. The views expressed in this article are those of the author or industry study group and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Defense Department or the U.S. government.
This article has been derived from an ICAF student/faculty industry report, which is published on the National Defense Magazine website.
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Previously published ICAF studies can be found in “Archives.” Every issue of National Defense in 2008 featured an ICAF study. The studies are posted each month under the subhead “Industry Study.”