Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Black Box" Data Recorders. A Cost Effective Port Security Measure.

It’s was a great feeling to hear that our elected officials are actually listening to us on something for once. The announcement today from DP World that it will transfer their holdings of US port assets to an American entity sounds very promising, but as Sen. Schumer, and now, half of Capitol Hill keeps saying, “The devil is in the details”. Knowing how things seem to work in DC lately, I’ll bet that there’s going to plenty of room for the devil to hide in what ever details are yet to be provided.

I’m glad that Dubai saw the light. I was confident that they would restrain themselves from trying to force this thru with threats of kicking our Navy out of their ports over a business deal. Our presence there provides for their security. It would be suicide for them to play that card. That was an action of an ally. We are still all in this together.

The firestorm over the Dubai Ports deal has offered us a new chance to make real progress in safeguarding America and our allies. It has shown the light on a dangerous vulnerability left wide open by the Bush administration, our ports. And in light of this, I believe that it is time for us to take the next step in securing our way of life.

I was proud of how General Wesley Clark acquitted himself in answering the question of how this deal was being handled. When asked about his stand on the ports deal by George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week”, he replied, “I think it ought to be reviewed. But you know, the United States has to find a way to fit into the modern world. Now, there's no reason why American companies can't own and operate ports - not only here and abroad - but our security doesn't depend on who owns the facility, in other words, who's collecting the money and taking the tolls. It depends on how we regulate the facility”. It was our part to raise the alarm over this deal; voice our opposition to something that we believe is bad for our country. The sign of a valuble leader in such a situation is the ability to listen, and speak from a position of authourity and convey a firm understanding in a way that gives comfort to such concerns held by those they lead.

In the spirit of the question posed by General Clark’s statement, “how we regulate the facility”, I’d like to contribute my two cents to this task.

While watching the History Channel the other day, I came across a program call, “Al-Qaeda’s Navy” which focused on Al-Qaeda’s shipping capabilities. They went thru the methods and assets diserned by security experts to be in use by terrorist organizations. During the show, they mentioned a piece of equipment that stuck with me. It’s a “Black Box” for shipping containers. Simular to a flight data recorder used in civil avation, it has the ability to track the movements as well as a miriad of other security related telemitry real-time, from anywhere in the world over GPS Sat Com and accessable via the internet.

Installed in the top corner of the door end of a shipping container, the “Black Box” would monitor things like door access, weight differences, speed, travel time, temperature variances, internal movement of the product within the container, damage to the contaner, and so on. So if Sony Japan packs a container in Tokyo, we can track that container thru out its trip. We’ll know if it made any unschedualed stops. We’ll know if someone tried to open it. We’ll know if someone tried to cut thru the roof to bypass the door sensor. We’ll know if someone tampered with the refrigeration system. We’ll even know if some idiot droped it. And we’ll know this in real-time. This would give us the ability to pack it and let it go without worry of it being intercepted and packed with someone or something we didn’t order, if you know what I mean.

I think they said that the price to install these devises cost about a couple thousand dollars per unit. That sounds high at first, but if you consider that a shipping container’s life expectancy is about 10 to 15 years, and that the containers make multiple trips a year, the price per shipment is more like $20 to $50 per trip. I think that companies that rely on timely shipments would find such an additional charge inconciquetial if it meant that their containers could be concidered secure and would not require time consuming and occasionaly destructive physical inspections.

Of course this would not take the place of US Customs and the Coast Guard. But it is a cost effective measure that would give us a dramaticly improved awareness of shipments and would help to delegate human resources to more useful tasks like screening the people on board the ships on approch to port, and screening the truckers and dock workers on the ports.

I would like to ask Congress to push legislation to require all shipping containers used in trans-oceanic shipping to US ports to have a certified “Black Box” container security device instaled within 6 months of passing. And maybe, as a token of good faith, if Dubai does not retaliate for us shutting them out of US port opperations, we could offer them a short term financial break on something for allowing US technicions to install these devices on their entire fleet of shipping containers in recognition of their dominate position in the industry.

For more information on this technology, I am including a link an article from GPS World.com entitled “Thinking Inside the Box”. Please pass this on to whom ever you think could help make this a reality.

Pleonexia: Beyond Hubris

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