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American Shipper

DHS circulates national cargo security strategy

DHS circulates national cargo security strategy

   The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s top cargo security priority is to prevent terrorists from shipping a nuclear bomb, radioactive explosive or other weapon of mass destruction into the United States in an ocean container, according to a draft national cargo security strategy.

   DHS officials circulated the draft report at a cargo security summit attended by more than 150 invited industry officials with expertise in security and international trade. DHS officials characterized the summit, which continues today at Georgetown University in Washington, as a way to gather input and refine the strategy that will guide policy for the next three to five years.

   “As owners and operators within the cargo and shipping industry we’re looking to you to play a very direct and active role was we work to ramp up the security of this vital economic sector,” said DHS Secretary Tom Ridge in remarks kicking off the summit.

   “We can not secure the homeland from Washington, D.C. alone. There’s a mindset we have within our department. I think it’s very positive. It’s the notion that you can’t do it all from the nation’s capital. You can’t secure the hometown from D.C. You can’t secure ports from D.C.,” Ridge said.

   The draft highlights the department’s objectives to reduce the terrorist threat through risk management rather than 100-percent inspection, setting standards and best practices for industry to follow and gaining international cooperation from other governments to follow common procedures for checking cargo that passes through their ports.

   According to the draft strategy, DHS will soon take the short-term step of mandating the use of high-security mechanical seals on all in-bound containers in effort to make potential tampering quickly evident to shippers or customs inspectors. The proposal is part of a broader initiative that undertakes to ensure the integrity of the container when it is stuffed and as it moves through the transportation system.

   Sensors and other container security devices will be integrated into DHS programs as technology becomes commercially reliable, DHS said. Officials have said such devices are still three to five years away from full commercial deployment.

   DHS said it intends to more effectively collect and analyze shipping data earlier in the supply chain to identify high-risk cargo before it reaches a port with the help of the rapid build-out of the Automated Commercial Environment computer system. A recent presidential directive required federal agencies to develop a single risk assessment system for cargo to reduce redundancy between Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Targeting System and other agencies.

   The draft, most of which has been publicly discussed by DHS officials in previous months, also focuses on strengthening the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism to make sure companies comply with promises to beef up internal controls.

   “As voluntary programs evolve and mature, we should be evaluating the transition of these voluntary practices to mandatory requirements as necessitated by threat and vulnerability,” the draft stated.

   Most cargo security discussions during the past two years have focused on international shipments. The draft sets as a goal the establishment of best practices for domestic transport and the development of a comprehensive domestic cargo security plan.

   The draft also acknowledges the need to develop a contingency plan for resuming shipments in the event of an attack on ports or transportation networks.

   Industry officials broke off in separate roundtables to brainstorm about various components of the strategy.

   Some said they found the summit a useful exercise because it brought a comprehensive focus to supply chain security that extends to other agencies beyond CBP. DHS and CBP get input from the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations and during the annual Trade Symposium, but many supply chain issues involve agencies like the Coast Guard and Food and Drug Administration.

   “Instead of going to different silos to talk about it, it’s good to come together in one forum,” said Jonathan Gold, with the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

   Others found the hastily convened conference too large and unstructured and focused on maritime security at the expense of other modes.