SPECIAL REPORT: Ridge outlines transportation security plan

| 4/11/2003

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recently described federal transportation security efforts with an emphasis on cargo, container and border security and background checks for hazmat drivers.

"DHS has a two-pronged challenge in the transportation and border arenas - protecting the homeland while ensuring that the flow of goods and commerce that makes our economy strong is not disrupted," Ridge said.

To achieve the goals, Ridge said the department was forming alliances with state, local and private-sector partners. Ridge testified before the Senate Commerce Committee April 9.

"We are developing partnerships with public and private sector entities to tap their extensive expertise and technological resources to advance our security mission without unduly impacting commerce," he said. "Much must be done in the months and years ahead, and fostering these partnerships will prove invaluable in achieving our goals and protecting the homeland.

New approaches; FAST for truckdrivers

DHS uses a range of technology to inspect people and goods entering ports, including large-scale X-ray and gamma-ray imaging systems, portable radiation monitors and a mixture of portable and handheld technologies to include personal radiation detection devices.

Such devices reduce the need for time-consuming physical inspection of containers and provide a picture of what is inside the container for detecting weapons of mass destruction, explosives, chemicals and contraband, Ridge said.

Under the Free and Secure Trade, or FAST program, importers, commercial carriers and truckdrivers who enroll and meet agreed-upon security criteria are entitled to expedited clearance at the northern border.

"Using electronic data transmission and transponder technology, we expedite clearance of approved trade participants to focus our security efforts and inspections where they are needed most - on high-risk commerce - while ensuring that legitimate, low-risk commerce faces no unnecessary delays," Ridge said.

Background checks for hazmat drivers

Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the Department of Transportation is charged with overseeing issuance by states of hazmat endorsements to CDL drivers.

The Bureau of Transportation Security through TSA determines whether a CDL holder poses a security risk that warrants denial of the license. The bureau will work with DOT to ensure this is taken into consideration for approval of a CDL license.

"This requires conducting Department of Justice background checks on the many hazmat drivers throughout the country," Ridge said. "The department, together with DOT, acting through the Research and Special Programs Administration and the FMCSA, are collaborating on a series of regulations that will provide uniform standards for the conduct of background checks and threat-based security determinations. These regulations will end the uncertainty within the trucking industry as to what standards and rules will apply to the transportation of explosives."

Ridge said the rules were in the process of final review within the administration, and he hoped to issue them in the near future.

DHS framework

The U.S. Coast Guard and Bureau of Transportation Security, including the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration, will play key roles, as will the new Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate.

The Coast Guard reports directly to Ridge and serves as lead agency addressing maritime security, and the BTS Directorate is working for safe and secure passage of people, goods and cargo across U.S. borders.

The Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) Directorate is charged with undertaking vulnerability assessments and mitigation measures for the transportation system, ports and borders.

The Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate will support this effort by developing technologies that will meet security needs.

Meanwhile, TSA will continue to focus on aviation security and work with other DHS organizations to implement an effective transportation security program in other areas. For example, TSA has established a working group that is using a threat-based and risk-managed approach in coordination with the cargo industry.

Threat assessments

Ridge noted the United States' 3.9 million miles of public roads, which account for 2.7 trillion miles of travel by car and truck each year.

"There are 11.2 million trucks and almost 2.4 million rail cars coming into the U.S. each year. There are 120,000 miles of rail owned by the major railroads, accounting for 700 million rail freight miles annually," he said. "There are 2.2 million miles of pipelines. Mass transit accounts for 9 billion commuter trips each year. The United States has 25,000 miles of commercial navigable waterways. Finally, there are 51,000 port calls made by 7,500 foreign flag ships to our 361 ports."

To protect all that, DHS plans a risk management approach to evaluate the various modes of transportation. Under this approach, there will be a threat assessment, a vulnerability assessment and a criticality assessment.

Container security

The Coast Guard, BTS components of TSA and BCBP, and the Office of the Secretary of Transportation currently participate in the Container Working Group.

The CWG focuses on ways a container is packed, secured, loaded and transported to the United States, ensuring the integrity of the shipment at all points in the international transportation chain.

This effort would produce security standards and criteria for identifying high-risk containerized cargo, including trucks, Ridge said.

There would also be a process to target containerized cargo before it is shipped to the United States. In addition, high-risk containers would be prescreened and secured as they are transported to the United States. Ridge also wants to improve cargo security during domestic transportation, "particularly high-consequence cargoes," he said.

In summation, Ridge said, "This strategy provides the framework to mobilize and organize the nation - federal, state and local governments, the private sector and the American people - in the complex mission to protect our homeland."

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor