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War Game Exposes Cargo Threat

RFID could help prevent the massive economic disruption that would be caused by a dirty bomb hidden in a shipping container.
Jan 12, 2003Jan. 13, 2003 - Terrorists successfully sneak a radioactive "dirty bomb" into the United States. It's discovered only after it falls off a truck at the Port of Los Angeles. A second, identical device is unpacked from a shipping container in Minneapolis after it arrives by truck from Canada. Within days, that bomb is brought into Chicago by train and explodes in a rail yard.
Find the dirty bomb

That's the scenario participants in the two-day "Port Security War Game," had to deal with. The strategic simulation took place in Washington back in October, with 85 leaders from a range of government and industry organizations that have a stake in port security.

The actions of the participants included shutting down all US ports for eight days, causing a 92-day backlog. The total cost to US companies was estimated to be $58 billion. The primarily lesson: Companies need to adopt new technologies and new business practices to avoid this devastating scenario.

Rick Saunders, a homeland security expert at Booz Allen Hamilton, the global management and technology-consulting firm that sponsored the war game with the Conference Board, was involved in running the simulation. He says the simulation showed that "there's a need for an integrated approach throughout the supply chain that provides procedures, information sharing and appropriate technologies to better ensure the flow of goods."

A number of government sponsored projects, including Smart and Secure Trade Lanes, have tested electronic seals, which use RFID to communicate whether a container has been opened without authorization.

The seals alone are not enough, says Saunders. Governments need to establish a set of requirements that include both technology and procedures for shippers to follow. Those that comply could become trusted shippers, and their containers would be allowed to move through customs quickly. That would enable the authorities to focus on the 10 or 20 percent of containers that pose a higher risk.

"You are never going to inspect more than 2 percent of the containers coming into the United States, unless there's a big breakthrough in remote electronic screening," Saunders says. "So you need to know which 2 percent to target."

The war game also showed the benefits of visibility. Most of the economic cost of the terrorist attack was not caused by the bomb that exploded, but by the closing of the ports. If companies use RFID to track what's in cargo containers held up in a port or at sea, they can react more effectively to problems.

The National Defense Transportation Association wasn't involved in the war game, but it deals with the issue of securing goods in transit. Kenneth Wykle, president of the non-profit group, says companies have to think of four aspects of security: Securing physical facilities; checking the background of personnel and ensuring they are who they say they are; securing information technology systems with passwords and encryption, and securing physical goods as they move through the supply chain.

"RFID technology not only enables you to use e-seals to secure doors, but you can actually track items as they move down the highway or on a rail car or ocean vessel," he says. "If you combine in-transit visibility and electronic seals with physical, personnel and information security, you get a much more secure system than we’ve had in the past."

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