GE has suspended operations and investments in its CommerceGuard container security device solution due to poor economic conditions and what it says is a lack of firm field testing schedules and deployment plans from the U.S. government.
“We are not going to continue to invest and have suspended operations,” a spokeswoman for GE’s Security business tells TR2 regarding the company’s decision to halt work on CommerceGuard. “We will retain our ability to produce CommerceGuard.”
CommerceGuard is a device that is mounted inside the doors of shipping and trucking containers and can record unauthorized door openings. At key points along a supply chain, such as a seaport or land point of entry, radio frequency identification readers communicate with CommerceGuard and any event information is relayed to a command center regarding the door opening events. There has been interest in this technology by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and private industry for security and even quality control reasons.
At one time DHS’ Customs and Border Protection agency felt that if the container security devices worked with a very low false alarm rate, that would mean users might test expedited processing at ports of entry for quicker passage to their destinations inside the U.S. Later CBP decided that it would seek a more capable type of security device, one that could also detect tampering with any side of the container including the doors. Then in late 2007 CBP decided to focus efforts again on detecting unauthorized door openings using container security device (TR2, Jan. 9, 2008).
Early this year CBP was going to conduct a field evaluation of CommerceGuard on a sea container carried by an 18 wheel truck during a cargo trip from a supplier in Mexico into the U.S. After completing site surveys
for the RFID infrastructure and making all the necessary contacts, GE in January withdrew from the evaluation, Patrick Simmons, director of Non-Intrusive Inspection Technologies at CBP, tells TR2.
Simmons said he didn’t know why GE withdrew from the program. GE is the only company CBP has been working with the past few years and has twice previously tested the system to help move the technology forward so that it could meet the agency’s performance requirements, he says. The earlier tests were focused on things like vulnerabilities and false alarm rates, he says.
However, Simmons says the evaluation that GE pulled out of was to be a crucial test for the system to see if it was adequate as an interim solution for a part of the container security problem. CBP published a requirements document for CSDs in 2007 and CommerceGuard was the only solution that appeared to meet all the requirements, Simmons says. Still a demonstration of CommerceGuard inthe “stream of commerce” would be necessary before deciding if it could be the “potential stopgap” until better technology came along, he says.
Since the first test in 2004 run by CBP, CommerceGuard’s capabilities kept improving, Simmons says. Where it had been falling short had been in the communications, specifically sending data back to CBP and achieving
interoperability with other communications systems, he says.
Relatively high costs associated with the system have also been a challenge, Simmons says. While the business model has assumed that shippers would pay a service fee for using the device, Simmons says the trade community hasn’t embraced it, which could be due to additional security-related charges that industry has been paying since 9/11.
If the test GE pulled out of had ultimately showed that CommerceGuard was sufficient to meet the minimal requirements, then CBP would have considered establishing incentives in the trade community to adopt the CSD technology, Simmons says. These may have included “extra consideration” at the border, although not a “green lane,” he says. Another incentive might be making it a requirement for members achieving a certain level within the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, he says.
C-TPAT is a voluntary program that allows members of the trade community, typically shippers, importers, freight consolidators and others, to take specific measures to improve the security of the supply chain in return for benefits such as expedited processing for shipments entering the U.S.
Simmons says that another challenge in creating CSDs has been having the devices fit onto both standard shipping and trucking containers. CBP originally looked at the devices to better secure shipping containers but evolved its thinking towards having a “conveyance security device,” he says. “This is
not an easy fix,” he says.
GE has had several customers using CommerceGuard in limited applications, including Starbucks Coffee Co. If any, or all, of those customers are still using the container security device, they’ll being doing so without GE’s help.
“I do not have any comment on customers, like Starbucks, other than we have suspended our operations,” the company spokeswoman says.
CBP will be reviewing its options but will basically be going back out to see what is available in the market space for CSDs, Simmons says.
DHS’ Science and Technology branch currently is working with vendors to advance the development of CSD technology.