With the launch of war in Iraq, the question of how to provide homeland security once again came under the spotlight, and the nation's transportation and distribution system once again took center stage.
The Department of Homeland Security has raised its official advisory on the threat of terrorist attack to high and taken a number of steps to protect the nation's transportation and distribution network as part of its far-reaching Operation Liberty Shield.
In announcing the new steps, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said a variety of intelligence sources indicated a high probability that terrorists would attack U.S. interests in response to the war. "In recent months, there have been reports of suspicious activity in and around military facilities, ports, waterways, general infrastructure (bridges, dams, power-generating facilities) and targets that are considered symbolic of U.S. power and influence," Ridge said in prepared remarks. "Operation Liberty Shield will increase security at our borders, strengthen transportation sector protections, enhance security at our critical infrastructure, increase public health preparedness and make sure all federal response assets can be deployed quickly." He said the operations were designed for minimal disruption to the economy.
The initiative calls for increased Coast Guard patrols at major U.S. ports and waterways. In addition, all vessels deemed of "high interest" arriving at or departing from U.S. ports will have armed Coast Guard sea marshals on board. Those are ships the government has identified as having cargo or personnel to which officials wanted to give particular scrutiny.
The Coast Guard has also received instructions to enforce security zones in and around critical infrastructure sites in key ports. In particular, the Coast Guard has been asked to provide maritime protection for petroleum centers located in close proximity to major coastal population centers.
The department has also increased surveillance at U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, adding agents and increasing patrols between major ports of entry. At border crossings, customs and border protection officers increased the number of screenings of vehicles and cargo.
Airports have come under particular scrutiny under the new rules. In particular, the department has put temporary flight restrictions in place overWashington, D.C., and New York City.
Freight railroad infrastructure was the focus of other steps. The federal government asked state governors to provide additional police or National Guard forces at selected bridges and requested that railroad companies increase security at major facilities and key rail hubs.At the same time, the Department of Transportation has asked railroads to increase their surveillance of trains carrying hazardous materials.
For over-the-road transportation, the DOT planned to encourage hazardous material shippers and carriers to follow transportation security checklists and recommendations. Suggested measures, according to the Department of Homeland Security, included checking employee identification, developing communications plans and emphasizing operator awareness.
Businesses engaged in food distribution were targeted for additional security steps. The Department of Agriculture began urging food producers to inspect all vehicles and escort all visitors to their facilities. At the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services increased inspections of imported food.
What's coming down
Some industry players are raising questions about the security initiative, however. Dave Miller, CEO of Con-Way Southern Express, a major regional LTL carrier, believes that some of the securi ty rules could undermine the nation's competitiveness. As an example, he cites U.S. Customs rules, some in place, some under consideration, requiring transmission of shipment-level detail on both imports and exports prior to lading. The rules, he fears, could wreak havoc on transportation and distribution. Some of those rules could add 24 to 72 hours to inventory cycles, threatening to reverse decades of logistics productivity improvements overnight. Miller asks, "Who would source in North America if they had to add 72 hours? "He believes that security rules should be subject to economic impact studies to make everyone involved aware of the consequences.
But he worries that not enough people involved in distribution, logistics or other segments of the supply chain fully understand the scope of what might be coming down the road. Unless more logistics and distribution professionals draw the attention of rulemakers to the consequences of their proposals, he says, the economy could suffer.