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Homeland Security

Smart Containers

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said of containers, "They're as dumb as a fence post, so we just want to make them smarter." One way to transform a dumb box into a smart one is by equipping a container with a heavy-duty seal and installing an electronic container security device. A smart box will communicate evidence of tampering and the container security device will register every legitimate, as well as unauthorized, opening of the container.

Like a piece of Lego, the container security device can be snapped into place in the door jamb of an existing container without any special tools. After loading, the shipper accesses the system, logs in an access code, registers the container number and authorizes sealing the container. The system generates an entry that gives the time, date, and seal number. Afterwards, the container's security device can be queried by anyone with access to the system. The container security device transmits information to a receiver or "reader." The reader, which is no bigger than a pack of matches, can be attached to any cell phone with global capability. In response, the device will generate a "data log" that records every time the device has been electronically queried and each time the door has been opened and resealed. A checking device or "checker," which does not require a cell phone, can also be used to check the seal's status. The "checker" indicates only whether the container has been opened, sort of a red-light, green-light system. Non-portable hard-wired readers are also placed at port cargo gateways to monitor the security devices. At its destination or any intermediate point, an authorized person can key in an access number and open the container. If a container has been tampered with, it will be referred for inspection. While there will still be spot checks of shipments that raise no red flags, the device serves as a "sorter," placing containers into stop-and-go lanes and freeing inspectors to focus on containers that may pose a higher risk.

In order to qualify as a smart box, containers will have to use this seal or one of three other types of high-security, tamper-evident seals, that meet the standards of the international organization for standardization and they will also have to be equipped with container security devices. Starting in December 2003, five major manufacturers will start using the first 500 smart boxes, with another 500 smart boxes being brought into use in January 2004.

Shippers will be rewarded for using the smart box. Those who participate in Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), the Container Security Initiative (CSI), and use industry best practices will get to use a "green lane" to expedite their cargo clearance and processing which could add another meaning to the notion of a "green" lane. It will not only mean "go," but it may also mean a substantial financial advantage. Using the green lane will mean fewer inspections, which can add up to saving big bucks.

"Container security devices are the architectural backbone for smart container initiatives. Their capabilities can be expanded internally to allow us to 'see' inside the container," said Royce Walters, Program Officer for Container Security Technology and Seals. In the future, sensors that can detect light, chemicals, radiation, and ammonia can be added to the base security device to create a snap-and-lock system, expanding its security capabilities even further.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:51:35 ZULU