COFFEE, PROCESSED MEAT, frozen shrimp, fine wine-these and other commodities are the targets of modern day cargo thieves. This phenomenon has been steadily growing in the United States and the FBI estimates that cargo theft is costing the U.S. between $15 to $30 billion each year.
As the average trailer load of merchandise is valued somewhere between $12,000 to $1 million-and the cost of insuring that load is skyrocketing-food companies can scarcely afford to remain blasé about protecting their shipments. They need to take aggressive steps to protect trucks in their yards, en-route to their destinations and at the receiving docks. Armed with the very latest information, they can do just that.
What Companies Are Up Against
"These thieves are organized crime. They're a different breed of criminal and you haven't heard that much about them," says Barry Brandman, president of Danbee Investigations of Midland Park, NJ, a company that specializes in the prevention of corporate loss.
"These are groups that were formerly involved with the illegal importation of narcotics into the U.S.," says Brandman. "Unfortunately, when the government took steps to increase boarder security after 9/11 and started interdicting more illegal drug shipments, these organized crime rings were forced to look for alternative sources of income. They turned to domestic criminal activity such as cargo crime and breaking into distribution centers."
According to Brandman, these crime organizations can have membership in excess of three to four dozen people. Their members are specialists in the areas of disarming intrusion detection systems, covert surveillance on facilities and moving targets, tractor trailer and lift truck operations and more. Since these organizations typically pull down hundreds of millions of dollars a year, they can afford to hire the right people to get the job done.
Cargo thieves are interested in stealing product that they can turn a large profit from. Goods that take up more cubic feet and are worth less, such as cereal or canned vegetables, are seldom targeted. Commodities that have higher yields, such as coffee, seafood, meat, beer, wine and liquor, are much more inviting targets.
"We didn't have a lot of theft until about the last two or three years," says Bud Wallace, owner of Wallace Transport, a contract carrier headquartered in Planada, CA, who works with the produce industry. "That is until the price of commodities such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts and dried fruit went up from a dollar a pound to three or four dollars. Why would you steal 40,000 pounds of something that's only worth $40,000, which will probably only get you $10,000 when you sell it to a middle man? Now that almonds are in big demand, you steal a trailer and you can walk away with $30,000 to $40,000."
Companies should start protecting their assets by breaking down the various areas of their supply chains and analyzing each of them for weaknesses that cargo theft rings can-and will-exploit.
According to the experts, the first line of defense is the security in the warehouse yard-where trucks are loaded up and staged before hitting the road. These loaded vehicles, left vulnerable by poor security measures, can present a smorgasbord for thieves looking to gorge themselves on stolen cargo.
"The distribution center is one of the riskiest areas, agrees Bill Anderson, director of global security for Ryder System Inc. of Miami. He says the perimeter outside of the yard also requires security consideration. "Perhaps cargo that is being delivered has arrived ahead of schedule, at a time when the distribution center isn't even opened. The driver has to wait with his truck outside the gate or somewhere nearby by. This offers a great opportunity for theft."
Warehouse managers should take a layered approach to the yard, starting with perimeter fencing, making sure that it is adequate to deterring encroachment. An 8 foot-high chain link fence topped with barbed wire outriggers (the type you see on typical high security areas like prisons) is a good deterrent.
Anderson also suggests controlling access for vehicles that enter and exit the facility. This can be done by securing entry ways with rugged swing gates that can be secured to the ground when they are in the closed position and locked with deadbolt-type locks when a facility is closed.
Contract carriers like Wallace Transport make it difficult for thieves to get at high-value goods by the way they arrange the trailers in their yard. "We block them in with other trailers and make it difficult for anyone to pick them up and move them," says Wallace. "But if you're going to be trading trailers off, you have to have some exposure."
Wallace says thieves will use the yard trucks to move the trailers around if they have to, in order to get at the ones they want, so the goal is to make it as difficult as possible for them. This will increase the chances that they won't steal anything.
A combination of physical security, including a number of guards that is appropriate to the size of a yard, as well as cutting-edge technology, provides the best protection. Danbee Investigations recently installed motion detectors directly inside a company's fencing as well as digital video cameras that would be triggered to activate an alarm at the monitoring site. This is done with monitoring software that contains algorithms which analyze video images, real time, as they are generated. Alarms are raised if a predetermined alert event, such as a yard penetration, occurs.
An individual at the monitoring station would be able to remotely use the pan, tilt and zoom functions of the cameras to scan the yard. "If you had an unauthorized individual or tractor coming into the yard, you'd be able to e-mail that clip to every law enforcement official within 200 miles in seconds," Danbee's Brandman explains.
The experts also suggest segregating the loading and unloading areas from the general parking areas, as well as providing lighting that is sufficient to illuminate the entire yard.
Another aspect to yard security that too many companies are overlooking is who they allow onto the premises. Wallace, of Wallace Transport, relates the story of a recent theft from an associate's yard of three almond trailers with $160,000 worth of product in them.
"People came in over the weekend and signed them out," Wallace explains. "However, the guys that picked them up were not the guys that were supposed to. Somebody gave them the pickup information-the specific trailer and container numbers-needed to go and get them.This is a clear sign that it was an inside job."
Fortunately, the police found the trailers in an industrial area in Oakland and they immediately started looking around the vicinity. "The guys were so stupid that they left the trailers about six blocks from where they were re-working the product," says Wallace.
The moral of the story is that companies need to know who their shippers are. They also need to identify the trucks and drivers that show up at their gates. They should request proper identification, make sure that the company logos on the trucks are permanently imprinted on the sides and are not temporary placards and ask for the correct shipping documentation.
"The most vulnerable part of the supply chain is while the truck is on the road," says Ryder's Anderson.
Cargo thieves will trail a truck for as far as 200 or 300 miles as it travels along its route. To make it easier for them to shadow the vehicle from a safe distance, crooks will often write something on the back door or place a reflective device on it that will allow them to see the truck from farther away.
The most critical part occurs when the truck has to stop somewhere along the way, wherever the driver has to take a break. Thieves will follow the vehicle to the rest stop and wait for the driver to exit the vehicle, thereby leaving it unprotected. Once he is gone, they go break into the truck and drive it away, fully loaded with cargo.
"It's the most convenient way to move stolen goods," says Danbee's Brandman. "Once they move it to an enclosed facility, they can have the product offloaded and put on another truck."
Security companies like Danbee provide pre-clearance of driver routes, consulting with senior drivers in order to ensure that company trucks are moving along the safest possible routes and not areas that will leave them vulnerable to hijacking. These routes also include areas that have been cleared as safe for the drivers to use as rest stops. "Decisions such as these should not be left up to the drivers themselves," says Brandman.
Drivers should also be trained on proper security guidelines, including how to park their trucks at a rest stop (where they can see it while they're in a diner) and how to perform a walk around the vehicle once they get back to it, to ensure no one has marked it.
In addition, they should watch when they leave a rest area to make sure they're not being followed, as well as be aware of suspicious activities around refueling areas, bridges and tunnels. They should maintain regular contact with dispatchers and not discuss their cargo, route or destinations with anyone. When stopped at red lights, they should be aware of anyone approaching their vehicle. Drivers should also get in the practice of keeping doors locked and windows rolled up at all times until they exit the vehicle.
"On-the-ground observation and information provided by drivers to dispatchers is one of the most important keys to preventing theft," says Fletcher R. Hall, president of FR Hall and Associates, a Potomac, MD-based public affairs firm specializing in agricultural transportation and food security.
"There are four essential security watch words for drivers: one is awareness-be aware of what's going on around you. Two is recognition-know how to spot a potential threat. Three is communication-know who to contact, should something happen. Four is action-don't keep the information to yourself. Immediately report it."
"You find that a good percentage of truck thefts that take place in transit are the result of driver negligence, not following proper procedure," Danbee's Brandman adds.
GPS Telematics Keep Fleets Under Control
Newer technologies are increasingly being applied in the war on cargo theft. Technologies such as GPS tracking systems have definitely improved the ability of fleet managers to track their trucks over the road and onboard telematics systems are making it easier to recover trucks once they've been stolen.
Ryder, for instance, has entered into an alliance with Teletrac and Cingular Wireless to create RydeSmart, an advanced onboard telematics technology which is designed to improve highway safety, cargo security and real-time tracking of customer fleet operations. The system uses Teletrac's GPS system, combined with Cingular's nationwide wireless data coverage area. RydeSmart is a hardware and software unit that is installed in a truck and continuously monitors the vehicle's location, mileage and speed. It communicates to the fleet operator's desktop computer every 15 minutes.
However, many professional cargo thieves are usually one or two steps ahead of the security safeguards that companies are implementing, notes Brandman. "For example, most GPS systems operate by line of sight, meaning their antennae has to see the sky in order to send tracking information. What professional cargo thieves will do is disconnect a GPS antenna the moment they steal a truck, thereby thwarting the system. In response, GPS manufacturers have tried to overcome this by concealing their antennas in the safety lights atop a truck's cab."
He says that professional cargo theft rings are very astute, however. They know exactly where to find the concealed antennas.
This is why security professionals prefer cellular assisted GPS units. They don't require line of sight to a satellite, have no visible antennas and can be put in trailers or mixed with a truck's cargo in order to prevent it from being found.
"We've also seen very good results with GPS units that can accommodate remote disabling devices, which enable the remote dispatch office, once they become convinced that a vehicle's been stolen, to gradually slow it down and bring it to a halt," explains Danbee's Brandman.
A Word About Seals
High security seals are an effective way to ascertain cargo integrity, provided certain precautions are followed. These seals, typically steel bolt types, should be checked as a driver does his walk-around to make sure the cargo is intact.
"The seal is a great device to help identify loads that have been tampered with," says Tom Hayes, vice president, global sales and marketing for Tyden Brammal, an Angola, IN-based manufacturer of transportation security seals. "We have a process that they use to record the seal number and if the shipper is using their seals correctly, they will have a closed loop system to signify what loads have potentially been tampered with. If those numbers don't match, or if the seal is missing, the load should be rejected."
"The main thing you know is that when that truck has been sealed and leaves the facility, the integrity of that shipment is assured and as long as the sealed number is accurate on the shipping documentation, it's a very inexpensive way to identify potential theft."
Maintaining the seal integrity by making sure that the driver isn't the one to record the seal number on all shipping documentation, nor is he the one who verifies and detaches the seal when he arrives at a facility, is a practical way to make sure there has been no off-loading of cargo containers somewhere along the supply chain route.