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More work needs to be done when it comes to maritime security

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 27, 2012

It is not too often that I read the morning paper and find an article directly related to supply chain security. But today was an exception, I guess.

That was made clear when I came across this headline in The New York Times Opinion section: “Cargo, the Terrorists’ Trojan Horse.” Written by United States Representatives Jerrold L. Nadler (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA.), and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MISS.), the editorial takes aim at the lack of activity on behalf of the White House in executing on United State-bound maritime cargo being scanned before being loaded onto vessels.

“[T]he Obama administration will miss this deadline, and it is not clear to us, as the authors, of the law, whether it ever plans to comply with the law,” they stated.

Just to refresh our memories, here is a brief description of that 2007 legislation drafted by the editorial’s authors that was signed into law. Entitled “H.R. 1 Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” this law called for 100 percent 100 percent scanning of all ocean borne cargo containers entering the U.S. by July 2012—which is coming soon.

Since that time, DHS, Congress and other Washington-based concerns have said the deadline would not be met for myriad reasons, including lack of available funding and technology that is not sophisticated enough to handle this task.

In the Times editorial, the Representatives say that DHS has not done enough to deal with the threat of terrorism in the form of a nuclear bomb or weapon of mass destruction arriving in a container on a U.S.-bound vessel. DHS, they say, “has wasted precious time arguing that it would be too expensive and too difficult, logistically and diplomatically, to comply with the law. This is unacceptable.”

Pretty harsh words, but guess what? They are right. And they have the facts to back it up. Consider this: an attack on an American port, they say, could cause tens of thousands of deaths, according to estimates by the RAND Corporation and the Congressional Research Service.

In the time since H.R. 1 was signed into law, DHS continues to use what it calls a “layered-based approach” to cargo scanning and security, as noted in the editorial. This approach focuses on specific cargo considered to be high-risk, which the Representatives described as inadequate.

Not everyone appears to be a fan of 100 percent container scanning. Critics of it maintain that it would severely impede how global business is done. They have a point, too. But at the same time, even though we are now more than ten years past the tragic events of 9/11, security is and will remain important every day we are on this earth, with the same going for future generations, of course.

These critics say it is unnecessary and more work needs to be focused on other facets of supply chain security. That is hard to argue. We need to do a better job all around, but H.R. 1 was signed into law 5 years to go, and there is relatively little to show for it.

As we all know, legislation is not a panacea, nor is it something that makes everything “better,” but more needs to be done. It would be a travesty for another act of terrorism to occur—especially at a port—for meaningful progress to occur long after it should have been addressed.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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