Port Turns to RFID for Security

By Bob Violino

The Port of Houston Authority has joined the Smart and Secure Trade lanes initiative.

April 3, 2003 - The Port of Houston Authority is turning to radio frequency identification to reduce the possibility that terrorists could exploit its facilities to get weapons of mass destruction into the United States. The port has joined the Smart and Secure Tradelanes initiative (SST), which uses an RFID system originally developed by Savi Technology for the US Department of Defense.

The Port of Houston Authority operates a 25-mile-long complex of public and private facilities designed to handle cargo, containers, dry bulk materials and other types of cargo. As the sixth largest port in the world, Houston handles more than 6,600 vessels each year. It's impossible to inspect each one, which is why the authority plans to deploy to RFID technology.

Houston's port goes high-tech

"We believe it's imperative for ports to take a proactive stance as far as security is concerned," says Wade Battles, managing director of the Port of Houston Authority. The Port decided to deploy the SST system, he says, because the technology has already been proven effective and the Port's partners -- steam ship lines and import and export companies -- were already involved in the project.

Savi's Total Asset Visibility (TAV) network was developed to help the Defense Department track shipments to overseas forces. Readers placed at strategic points around the port can receive signals from active (battery-powered) electronic seals that alert shippers and the port authority when a container has been opened without authorization.

The system enables the port to conduct virtual inspections, and track and authenticate containers in real-time. The Port of Houston will use the system to track shipments originating from manufacturing, distribution, and port facilities in Europe and Latin America.

Savi has been contracted to assist the port in deploying the system, which should be up and running within the next 90 days. Battles says he hopes the system will put citizens' fears to rest.

"Right now, there's a concern of not knowing what might be in one of those containers," he says. "We can dispel some of those concerns by reducing the vulnerability of the boxes. We can then concentrate on doing a higher number of physical inspections on those boxes that don‚t have seals."

There are now 13 ports that have installed or are about to install the various SST technology components, including Seattle/Tacoma, Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York/New Jersey, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Felixstowe, and now Houston. Last summer, the world's three largest seaport operators, Hutchinson, Whampoa, PSA Corp, and P&O Ports, agreed to deploy the network (see Ports to Adopt RFID Security System).

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