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US Calls E-Seals Test A Success

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta this week hailed an ongoing test of electronic seals as a success.
Jun 06, 2002June 6, 2002 -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta this week hailed an ongoing test of electronic seals as a success. "This new technology will help to enhance the security of our nation's transportation system by enabling us to track cargo shipments into the United States," he said.

E-seals are RFID devices that identify cargo containers and reveal whether they have been opened or tampered with. Interest in e-seals has intensified since 9/11 because of concerns that terrorists could plant a nuclear bomb or other weapon of mass destruction in one of the 17,000 containers that enter the United States each day. Only about 2 percent of those containers are opened and inspected.

But the e-seal test was actually part of the DOT's two-year Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program, which aims to promote the use of advanced technology to improve the management of all modes of transportation in the U.S.

E-seals were tested on five containers a week over a six-week period. The first ten containers arrived this week from Japan aboard a ship owned by Westwood Shipping. The seals were put on at an auto parts plant in Nagano, and the containers were shipped through the port of Seattle, and cleared by U.S. and Canadian Customs at the international border crossing in Blaine, Wash.

The e-seal consists of a bolt that goes through the handle on the container door and fits inside an electronic box with an active 433 MHz RFID tag in it. The tag uses a battery to broadcast its unique identifier to a reader. If the bolt is removed, the tag indicates the container has been compromised next time the tag is read.

For this test, the DOT used e-seals from eLogicity International, a Singapore company with offices in Pleasanton, Calif., and Troy, Mich., as well as from E.J. Brooks of Livingston, N.J.

Most of the seals were read as they entered the port and again as they reached the Canadian border. Gary Maring, director of freight management operations, at DOT's Federal Highway Administration, says one seal was not put on correctly and was improperly read. He added that the DOT was still doing a detailed evaluation of the test.

Under the ITS, the DOT is also testing an intermodal chassis tracking device. The unit -- a small box with antennas and wires protruding from one side -- provides global satellite positioning, cellular communication and an e-seal with an RFID tag. It could be used I the future to track trucks carrying hazardous material.

The GPS system would track the truck's position. The e-seal and RFID tag would identify the container and provide information on whether it had been opened, and the cellular communications system would allow the information to be broadcast wherever the truck was located.

The seals could reduce congestion at customs areas, a particular problem at Canadian and Mexican border crossings. Canadian customs is cooperating in the current test and Maring foresees future tests at the border with Mexico.

Will e-seals be mandatory one day on all containers entering the U.S.? "I don't know what arrangements Congress and the government will put in place," says Maring. "We're testing them so government an industry know what's available."
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