THE MAGAZINE

What Ails Transportation Security?

By Luke Ritter

Cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore, and New York—which have major port facilities, international airports, and primary highways and railroads—are transportation hubs. Because such critical assets are high on the list of possible terrorist targets, these cities have received significant homeland security funds to secure that infrastructure. Whether this infusion of capital is well spent will depend on how well security and transportation professionals work together to guide the process. Unfortunately, the two disciplines have often failed to collaborate on practical transportation security solutions in the past.

As a transportation consultant with years of experience implementing technology solutions, I am often asked to participate in homeland security events. I have yet to be part of a transportation security panel, committee, board, roundtable, summit, or meeting where I am not in the minority. Security experts are always present; transportation experts are rare.

Former law enforcement officers and first responders, risk management experts, continuity planners, security consultants, military veterans, and ex-federal agents are swelling the ranks of the transportation security industry. But the corresponding professional representation from the transportation community is often lacking.

The key is for security and transportation professionals to work together to provide “dual-benefit” solutions that enhance both security and business processes. Such solutions do exist. Two years ago, for example, I was directly involved in a transportation technology project that provided a major railroad system with both a security upgrade and a business process improvement.

This project included biometric fingerprint identification for access control. By implementing this solution, the railroad was able to enhance security by registering and validating the identity of every truck driver entering the railyard. But the solution also reduced the time required to validate and authorize access, which allowed the railroad to cut costs and improve its business process.

Nonintrusive container screening—the ability to image the contents of a freight container without opening it—was another example of a dual-benefit technology application. The security benefit included the ability to look for suspect contents without physically inspecting the container. The business benefit had to do with the potential to identify cargo that had been misdeclared and could have been subjected to additional (otherwise uncollected) duties.

These dual-benefit solutions succeeded because transportation and security professionals worked together. By contrast, excluding transportation experts from transportation security initiatives is the equivalent of embarking on a national healthcare initiative without including doctors or other medical professionals or attempting to upgrade our education system without consulting with teachers.

To avoid that problem, advisory committees, expert panels, and technology implementation teams should include a comprehensive balance of security and transportation professionals. Doing so will provide near-term and long-term benefits to shareholders, customers, and citizens, who will realize the maximum return on their homeland security tax dollars.

Transportation professionals can help move homeland security away from the notion that security spending only reduces risk. Security technology implementations can and should be expected to provide a return on investment by improving other aspects of the business.

Procurement officers should insist that transportation security projects be evaluated based on their potential for both security and business benefits. Systems integrators, government science and technology labs, security companies, and consulting firms should ensure that transportation security technology solutions are designed to enhance business processes. Security solutions can enable competitiveness when designed with this goal in mind.

It all comes down to balance. In the early days of maritime transportation security, the hulls of ships required enough timber to withstand enemy cannon fire but not so much that ships were rendered unseaworthy. Even better, a ship may have relied on enhanced speed to outmaneuver or outrace the enemy—speed that could also get goods to port more quickly.

In order for our nation to optimize the security investment being made in its most critical infrastructure—its transportation system—teams established to work these issues must include a balance of both security and transportation professionals. After all, transportation is the first word in transportation security.


Luke Ritter is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and principal consultant with Trident Global Partners, a transportation consulting firm based in Annapolis, Maryland.

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