U.S. container seal requirement may start with C-TPAT, official says
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security continues to work on a regulation mandating importers use tamper-evident, mechanical seals for all incoming ocean containers, but may decide that trusted shippers in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program do so sooner as an interim step until they can properly promulgate a rule, a key cargo policy official said Tuesday.
DHS officials said in September they intend to follow the recommendations of the industry-led Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations, which called on the government to demand the use of more secure seals at the point of stuffing to protect against terrorists and that ocean carriers certify that the seal has been properly placed on the container before loading on a vessel.
Elaine Dezenski, deputy assistant secretary for border and transportation security at DHS, said in remarks to the Homeland Defense Journal conference Tuesday that the department is considering quickly implementing the same requirement for shippers in the C-TPAT program as a temporary safeguard until a formal rulemaking is completed.
“There is no seal that will prevent intrusion, but we want to be able to detect it if it happens and be able to interdict it, or factor the event into our risk assessment score so we have a better chance of catching a high-risk shipment,” Dezenski said.
Agencies generally go through a lengthy process that requires issuing notices and receiving comments from industry and other concerned parties before a final rule can be published in the Federal Register. Customs and Border Protection, which manages the C-TPAT program, can make immediate administrative changes to C-TPAT without a formal review process because C-TPAT is a voluntary partnership program.
About 7,100 importers, carriers and transportation intermediaries have signed up to have their supply chain security plans certified by CBP in exchange for faster clearance of their shipments at the border. Many importers are requiring their suppliers and service providers to similarly correct security vulnerabilities in their operations.
Meanwhile, real world testing of electronic seals and container security devices that combine sensors and wireless communication to immediately transmit an intrusion alert have not produced a silver bullet yet, Dezenski said. Operation Safe Commerce and other pilot programs have demonstrated that “there is a lot of technology available, but less than we thought was really ready for prime time,” she said.
Electronic seals continue to have an unacceptable alarm rate, said Dezenski, who was recently promoted from director of cargo and trade policy.
“To use this technology in the field the alarm rate needs to be less than 1 percent, which means we are virtually cutting out the possibility of a false alarm. The reason the levels need to be so small is because we don’t have the resources to interdict a container every time we have an alarm go off, particularly in a foreign arena.
“If we are going to rely on electronic surveillance technology we need to make sure the integrity of the equipment is as robust as possible” before its use is required, she said.
She reiterated that the Science and Technology Directorate estimates it will take another three years before it can endorse a container security device for limited deployment and five years for universal deployment on the millions of containers in the system.
At the same time, DHS continues to develop performance standards for container security devices to detect light, radiation, changes in weight and other indicators that a box has been compromised.
When the standards and technology are ready the department will determine whether to provide incentives for their use, perhaps as a C-TPAT prerequisite, or issue a regulation mandating their use for the entire industry.