Anyone out hiking in the Appalachian foothills near the army depot in Anniston, Ala., on Oct. 21, 2003, would have been greeted by an ominous spectacle: Four enormous Paladin howitzers (tank-like self-propelled cannons) being rolled onto trucks. But this wasn't a typical wartime mobilization; these Paladins weren't shipping out to Iraq. They were embarking on a nine-day trek, during which they would travel 1,200 miles by land, by water (via 175-foot army landing craft) and finally by rail as part of a security demonstration.
That demonstration was being staged to showcase the security capabilities of the Regional Agile Port Intermodal Distribution System (RAPID), a Defense Department offshoot that develops advanced agile high-speed movement and logistics technologies for commercial and military shippers and transporters. Each of the 58,000-pound howitzers had been outfitted with high-tech satellite tracking devices. As the Paladins moved over land from Anniston, Ala., to Charleston, S.C.; then by sea to Philadelphia, and by rail to Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa., observers located miles away would be tracking their movements.
By organizing the demonstration, its sponsors, the Delaware River Maritime Enterprise Council (DRMEC) and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), were looking to answer several questions: Was it even possible to keep an eye on cargo like this every step of the journey? Would the tracking technology—in this case, five different commercially available satellite- based tracking devices—work in practice? And in particular, would the technologies stand up to the "intermodal challenge"—surviving multiple handoffs to multiple modes? "When people talk about tracking goods in transit, they don't consider that it goes through these transitional points," says Jim Galley, chief technology officer at NaviTag, maker of one of the devices tested. "So the intermodal aspects and particularly the global intermodal aspects are often an afterthought for tracking devices."
The information transmitted by the tracking devices would be plugged into both the Intelligent Road/Rail Information Server (IRRIS) system used by the U.S. Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, and to the RAPID RISK Alert system, a knowledge "tool" that allows crews, cargo owners and others to share real-time information and alerts with law enforcement agencies. In fact, as part of the field test, data generated during the Pennsylvania rail leg of the journey would actually be shared interactively with local law enforcement officials. Participants would have access to information regarding every point of potential hazard along this leg, such as rail bridges and grade-crossing chokepoints, as well as jurisdictions and contacts for state and municipal law enforcement, bomb technicians, emergency responders, hazardous materials teams, terrorism task forces, rail dispatch, rail police, a county emergency management agency and dispatch center, the Environmental Protection Agency and probably Grandma Moses somewhere along the way.
The implications for commercial logistics are obvious: This could have been any kind of cargo, whether a hazardous material that is sensitive by its very nature or simply freight traveling through a region under a heightened security alert. The test results would tell the industry much about both the potential for door-to-door security and the difficulty of achieving it.
A failure to communicate?
The good news was that the tracking and data technology worked, more or less (see sidebar). But that's not to say that this experiment wasn't something of an ordeal. It took mountain-moving amounts of effort to get everyone comfortably in the loop and working together—probably no surprise given the array of players involved: DRMEC, MARAD, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the Pennsylvania National Guard, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, the Military Traffic Management Command, the Letterkenny Army Depot, the Transportation Security Administration and a long, long list of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
"Technology [was] not the issue," says Susan Howland, president of the Howland Group, which has acted as project manager for a number of DRMEC systems and port security initiatives, including this one. "Policies to support greater information sharing—that's the key to all this. We need a greater degree of cooperation between the Defense Department, Homeland Security and local government. It's about the willingness to share. … It's not a technology problem, it's a cultural, institutional and people problem."
Certainly there was no lack of advance planning. Innumerable meetings were held, particularly between law enforcement forces and the major stakeholders in the demonstration. Furthermore, a DRMEC team traveled the whole land route by car beforehand, and spoke to those in charge at each point of interest along the way.
All the same, there were hiccups before the shipment even began. The commercial bills of lading were not produced by the transportation office at Anniston until the trucks were actually loaded, something the operations team hadn't anticipated, and which prevented them from entering this crucial information beforehand into an integrated data system hosted by Transentric, which communicated with everyone through the RAPID and IRRIS systems.
Furthermore, the trailer numbers on the paperwork— when it was produced—didn't match what was actually on the trucks used. In two cases, the bill of lading did not match the trailer numbers with the correct Paladin numbers. Then security at Anniston didn't check the paperwork on the cargo as the trucks departed, as this would have caused a delay.
Moving along the interstate highway system from Anniston to Charleston, the truck drivers were supposed to notify Transentric via phone of their actual departure time and their arrival time at Charleston, but none of those calls were made. (Luckily, the operations team was following them and reporting in every step of the way.)
At Charleston, the bar-coded shipping labels that should have been attached to each of the Paladins back at Anniston were attached. After a 650-mile sea journey in heavy rain to Philadelphia aboard the Landing Craft Utility Runnymede, it turned out that one of the Paladins' engines wouldn't start, and it had to be towed off, causing a two-hour delay. Then there was another two-hour delay on the Pennsylvania rail leg when the Norfolk Southern folks handed the train over to the CSX crew at Lurgan, Pa., six miles from the cargo's final destination.
These setbacks notwithstanding, it seems the DRMEC and many other parties learned valuable lessons from this demonstration. "What we were interested in was this advanced information sharing, where not only did you have visibility over the equipment move but, simultaneously, improved information sharing, which is so critical for homeland security and homeland defense," says Howland. "The people who needed to be aware of sensitive cargo moving through the state were aware of it, and that leads to improved security."
Perhaps the most important lesson, Howland says, was that taking existing technologies and combining them intelligently adds more value than any one new system ever could. "We were not building any new technology or gizmos or satellite systems," she says. "We focused on processes and procedures and getting people to co-operate and share the information." One of the unique aspects of the demonstration, DRMEC says, was the RAPID system's ability to integrate state and municipal law enforcement and state emergency management activities to enhance force protection in support of military operations.
Howland says she was especially interested in what happened when you combined federal-level information with local-level data, or combined information from different government entities. A good example of this was the geographical information system (GIS) information from IRRIS that was fed into the Coast Guard's data system, which helped the Coast Guard enhance the "maritime domain awareness" called for under Homeland Security measures. Information also flowed from the Coast Guard into the IRRIS system. "That enhanced it and showed how states can add capability to the Defense Department systems," Howland says.
Most importantly, the demonstration indicated what steps must be taken if increased security requirements are going to be applied to commercial transportation.
"We need to take down the wall between federal and state enforcement agencies," Howland says. "I think everyone in the commercial sector fully appreciates that the world as we know it changed after 9/11. I think they want to respond, and the technology is out there. It's just a question of knocking down these walls within the government."
Though the October 2003 cargo visibility demonstration wasn't designed to be a worldwide satellite technology smackdown, it nonetheless provided an opportunity to compare performance among five satellite-based real-time tracking devices. And it seems those devices sent decidedly mixed signals.
Each of the Paladin howitzers was outfitted with off-theshelf trackers made by Corp Ten of Baltimore, Md.; SRA/NAL Inc./NAL Research Corp. (SRA/NAL) of Manassas, Va.; NaviTag of Hingham, Mass.; Pole Star Space Applications of London; and WGI/ZIA Systems of Arlington, Va. Technicians then monitored the ability of each tracker to provide information during all three legs of the journey—as the cargo moved via truck from the depot in Anniston, Ala., to the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C.; via ship from the Port in Charleston to the Port of Philadelphia; and via train from Philly to the depot in Chambersburg, Pa.
All of the technologies tested use active tags, bouncing their signals off satellites in order to locate the cargo. But they used the satellites differently. Some used geosynchronous satellites (ones that rotate with the earth, staying over the same spot), others used satellites that track an orbit independent of the earth's; some used satellites closer to the earth than others. Most required clear sight of the sky in order to triangulate position between two or more satellites, which became a problem when some of the Paladins on the ship to Pennsylvania were positioned in a way such that the satellite signals were blocked.
One—the NaviTag, which can lock onto one visible satellite and then use the Doppler effect (the physical effect that makes a train horn's sound shift when it changes from coming toward you to going away from you)—was able to compensate for that. But that technology had its own problems —the time interval at which the tag sent positioning information could not be varied remotely as requested, from every 15 minutes on land to every 60 minutes at sea. Furthermore, the location information had an accuracy range of only 150 meters; and there were other issues with positioning information being relayed out of order, although DRMEC admits an information processing system would have alleviated that last problem, if only it had had time to set it up before the trial.
The others all had problems as well. The magnetic feet on the Corp Ten devices weren't strong enough to use alone to attach them to the Paladins, and additional securing arrangements had to be cobbled together. The SRA/NAL device had no anti-tamper sensor (although that could have been added). The Pole Star unit doesn't come with a battery power supply and had to be plugged into a cigarette lighter. That device also experienced lengthy, unexplained gaps in data transmissions. The WGI device kept reporting an incorrect alarm, which ran the battery down, leaving it dead until someone could come in and swap it out for a new one. It also reported some ludicrous data points (e.g., 0 latitude and 0 longitude).
The official assessment? All of the devices performed reasonably well, but not perfectly, according to DRMEC's report. "The conclusion is that there isn't a silver bullet out there— no single technology capable of meeting real-time tracking technology requirements for sensitive cargo," says William Shepard, chief operating officer of The Howland Group, which acted as project manager for the demonstration.
But that may be a bit harsh. The bottom line is that the shipment was tracked, most of the time, and pretty accurately. That represents a huge improvement over the usual black hole into which cargo disappears when it leaves the loading bay or port dock.
Actually, one company's technology did work flawlessly. Omaha, Neb.-based Transentric was given the thankless task of tying everyone's data information systems together and making sure they all spoke the same electronic language. There were some startup hurdles, of course, but in the end, Transentric met the challenge of determining the data formats being transmitted by each of the vendors and putting the information into a common format that could be accepted by the Intelligent Road/Rail Information Server (IRRIS) system.