SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY ALONG THE BORDERS
At last October’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit conference in Bangkok, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to open a metal container for the assembled audience. Immediately, alarms sounded as the container’s special seals indicated its contents had been breached.
Federal officials are hoping that the nation’s seaborne shipping industry will be sounding a similar alarm.
Powell’s vivid demonstration was staged to show an innovative system of electronic tracking and managing of cargo to allow for safe transit of goods that cross international borders. Eventually it may serve as a model for improved cargo security for the 21-nation APEC region.
This particular project — The Bangkok/Laem Chabang Efficient Secure Trade Project or STAR/BEST — leverages radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and support software to demonstrate a trans-Pacific, end-to-end supply chain security system between two important ports — one in the U.S. and the other halfway around the world in Thailand.
“One of the key issues in Homeland security is expanding our borders — that means knowing about things and tracking things before they hit our shores,” says Steve Cooperman, director of Homeland security solutions for Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp.
Every day thousands of huge metal cargo containers are loaded on and off cargo ships at 361 major ports along the nation’s 95,000 miles of coastline. The sheer volume of goods shipped through seaports makes ferreting out contraband material a huge challenge. A thorough search of even one container may take up to eight hours.
To counter these threats, the STAR/BEST program creates a system of “total asset visibility or an end-to-end secure supply chain from the Port of Leam Chabang to the Port of Seattle,” Cooperman says.
The pilot program demonstrates a system to allow containers to be sealed at one port and then tracked electronically as they move around the world.
The project affixes RFID seals, or e-seals, to conventional bolt locks on standard 40-foot containers at the point of origin. The containers are then transported by truck or rail to Laem Chabang and loaded on ships bound for the United States. The containers are tracked throughout their route from Laem Chabang, through ports in Taiwan and Korea, and on to the Port of Seattle, using a real-time, Web-enabled software application developed by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Savi Technology.
After arriving at the Port of Seattle terminals, the containers are offloaded and the e-seals checked before the containers leave the premises. Next, they are sent to their final destination point where operators with hand-held computers verify the containers’ origin and contents. Once cleared, receiving agents use hand-held computers to unlock the seals so container contents can be removed.
Data generated by sensor technology such as RFID devices is stored in the Oracle9i database.
Along with increased security, the program also allows shippers to achieve greater levels of efficiency by keeping tabs on where containers are at any given time and minimizing time spent in captive ports.
At the heart of the program is the ability to secure information through real-time tracking capabilities using RFID and GPS tracking capabilities.
The ultimate goal of the program is to produce a virtual “green light” for containers that are secured and verified in this manner. With proof that they are secure, goods can be allowed to move unimpeded into the country.