The container That Grew Legs: Five Ways to Safeguard Your Cargo
May 26, 2016 - SCMR Editorial
Editor’s Note: Michael Meeks is the Director of Risk Management for AFN. He has more than 13 years of experience in the risk management and insurance industries, including 11 years in multi-line commercial and transportation claims. At AFN, Michael oversees the Risk/Legal Department, including its claims, compliance and security division.
A group of thieves in Los Angeles blitzed a local storage facility, making off with a pair of trailers holding $3 million worth of computers. Local authorities in Miami busted a thief who created a fraudulent driver profile – including fake driver’s license, fake company ID card and facility exit pass – to haul off cargo from a Miami International Airport warehouse.
Both incidents occurred in just the past month.
As cargo thieves become more organized (and audacious), it’s crucial that shippers, carriers and logistics providers layer technology and safety protocols across the shipping process – from load planning through pick-up and delivery – to safeguard against theft.
Shipments most at-risk
Keeping cargo theft in check continues to pose challenges for shippers and carriers alike, especially as thieves become savvier and target more vulnerable loads. And according to several recent reports, the type of cargo thieves target may be changing.
Cargo theft prevention and recovery network, CargoNet recently released its latest theft trend analysis. Of the 881 incidents CargoNet tracked in 2015, the most common targets were relatively low value food and beverage items (about 28 percent of all stolen cargo). Likewise, FreightWatch International noted in its latest report that, while cargo theft incidents increased by about 13 percent in Q1 as compared to the previous quarter (Q4 2015), the average value of the stolen goods dipped. The report posited that thieves may be curbing their risk by going after lower value loads.
High value loads like electronics and pharmaceuticals continue to draw attention, but as potential thieves consider lower value goods, security concerns multiply for shippers and carriers. There are simply more lower-value shipments, and therefore many more loads potentially at risk.
There are several ways shippers, carriers, and logistics providers can collaborate to avoid potentially costly thefts. Ideally, this includes a blend of process, protocols, and technology, developed to suit the unique challenges of the freight in question.
Thieves don’t simply target cargo on the road. Often, they attempt to infiltrate warehouses, posing as drivers with seemingly valid credentials (sometimes just a commercial driver’s license and ID card) to gain access to cargo and escort it out of the facility without anyone batting an eye. Both shippers and carriers play a part in weeding out these thieves.
For shippers, requiring drivers to present valid documentation at the time of pick-up should be the bare minimum layer of defense. It’s the first barrier to would-be thieves. Carriers bear responsibility for verifying driver credentials and history through background checks, ensuring drivers who pick up certain loads are qualified and prepared to handle them.
Technology on the vehicle
Trucks and trailers also have minimum standards when it comes to technology. GPS units installed on-board should be standard at this point. In fact, many third party logistics providers require them from any carrier they work with. Without one, both shippers and carriers are essentially flying blind, relying on drivers to get from Point A to Point B with no recourse if something happens in between. Both trucks and trailers should also have locking mechanisms with sensors that alert supervisors if breached. Newer locking mechanisms can also integrate GPS functionality, meaning doors can’t be unlocked until the trailer actually reaches its intended destination. A best practice is the incorporation of multiple vehicle security measures and devices working together.
Technology in the cargo
Sensors embedded in the cargo itself act as eyes on the ground and can signal potential thefts based on various criteria. For instance, if thieves manage to bypass safeguards on the trailer, motion sensors in cargo can help supervisors identify whether an unauthorized unload is taking place. If cargo is on the move but the vehicle is stopped and doors appear to be locked, theft is a good bet. Additionally, motion sensors can be configured to sound alerts when a truck makes an unscheduled stop, or deviates from the planned route. GPS-enabled sensors can also help authorities track down cargo after a heist takes place.
Preparing the safest trip
Cargo is most vulnerable when the vehicle is stopped, which happens in a number of places: When trailers sit in detention at a shipping facility or storage yard, and when drivers pull off the highway or into weight stations. Optimizing shipping routes and itineraries is an easy, preemptive strike against cargo theft. Both shippers and logistics providers should also vet storage yards ahead of time to ensure that when cargo is stopped or in storage, the facility provides appropriate security measures to prevent being targeted.
An agile recovery plan
When all else fails, carriers should have protocols in place in the event of a theft incident. One of the stolen loads above was recovered in short order thanks to close collaboration with local law enforcement. Both carriers and third-party providers should maintain these relationships across their delivery regions, as well as collaborate with regional organizations and task forces dedicated to combating cargo theft on the country’s roadways.
Cargo security doesn’t fall on one party. Shippers, carriers and logistics providers share a common goal of cutting down theft and ensuring driver and load security on the roads. And improving in one of the above areas isn’t enough. The most effective approach layers multiple safeguards across the entire shipping process, and starts well before the load is picked up, with thorough carrier and driver vetting and careful load planning, and continues until the load reaches its intended destination.
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