Risky Business: Security and Transportation: A Tough Balancing Act

By Gropman, Alan L. | National Defense, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Risky Business: Security and Transportation: A Tough Balancing Act


Gropman, Alan L., National Defense


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* 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. …

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Risky Business: Security and Transportation: A Tough Balancing Act
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