Companies Turn to Tracking Technology for Cargo Security

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Many manufacturers provide trucking companies with products that use Global Positioning System satellites to help manage their logistics more seamlessly, but now they have found an additional use for the technology: With proper programming and perhaps a few extra peripherals, those devices also can be used to thwart theft and to track and recover stolen assets.

The devices use GPS to create a “geofence” — an electronic perimeter around an object. If the object deviates from the defined perimeter — at a truck stop or anywhere along a truck’s entire route on an interstate highway — an alert is sent to headquarters so the driver can be contacted or law enforcement called.

However, some experts warn that any security these devices offer is “collateral” to their primary logistics function and that the best security is to set up more obstacles for potential thieves and follow “tried-and-true” asset tracking practices.

Nonetheless, many trucking companies are turning to these devices. One manufacturer, SkyBitz, Sterling, Va., tracks more than 120,000 trailers. Its clients include Landstar System, Mesilla Valley Transportation and Gainey Transportation Services. SkyBitz just introduced its GLS 200 device, which uses a global locating system to take a “snap shot” of an asset’s location.

The GLS 200 has “smart” sensors, including a motion sensor that reports a location based on stops and starts, but filters out normal traffic movement. The GLS 200 also has a “lockdown” feature. “Let’s say you have a loaded trailer full of cellphones,” said Roni Taylor, executive vice president of SkyBitz, “and it’s going to sit overnight and it’s going to be picked up by your driver at 8 in the morning.

Since that’s probably $2 million worth of cellphones, you can put it in lockdown over the air on our Web site.” If a trailer breaches lockdown, an alert will be sent. GE Trailer Fleet Services developed its own product, VeriWise, using a Delphi chipset because it couldn’t find an existing logistics tool suitable for managing its own 140,000-trailer fleet.

VeriWise uses a patented covert external antenna, with the tracking device installed inside the trailer. A chipset is a group of microchips that work together to serve a single function. Although GE Asset Intelligence designed VeriWise primarily as a logistics tool, the product also can serve as a security device and has an expandable wireless platform that can accommodate different sensors, including nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) sensors.

The company also is exploring a “super-sensor” network, programmed to detect, for example, alpha and beta radiation. Wal-Mart Transportation recently selected VeriWise for its trailer management hardware and software. Because VeriWise is satellite-based, it has global coverage.

“If you were to leave the United States with a stolen trailer, we could find you,” said Joe Jesson, chief technology officer with GE Asset Intelligence in Wayne, Pa., the business unit that oversees VeriWise. “We had great performance during Hurricane Katrina, when all the cell towers were down.” ALK Technologies, Princeton, N.J., announced in October that it has placed its CoPilot Truck GPS navigation system in U.S. Xpress Enterprises’ entire fleet of 5,000 tractors.

U.S. Xpress, Chattanooga, Tenn., ranks No. 21 on the Transport Topics 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada. CoPilot Truck works with ALK’s PC*MILER 20 routing and mapping software to give drivers voice-guided GPS navigation, and can set up a geofence when used with ALK’s CoPilot Fleet Center. LoJack Corp., Westwood, Mass., adapted its system for tracking stolen vehicles to the cargo security market by investing $6 million last year in SC-integrity Inc., Bothell, Wash., a firm that investigates cargo thefts and tracks and recovers stolen cargo.

The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, Mayfield Village, Ohio, also has an agreement with LoJack to provide its systems at a discount to Progressive customers for commercial vehicles or construction equipment.

The LoJack system includes small wireless radio-frequency identification transceivers hidden in the vehicle or equipment. Police agencies track the signal from the transceiver if the vehicle is reported stolen.

Magtec Products (USA) Inc., Henderson, Nev., has found customers for its M5K, a device to secure and protect assets and prevent cargo theft. M5K uses vehicle command and control software developed by Qualcomm, San Diego, to allow only drivers who have a valid authentication code to start or move the truck.

Dispatchers can use Qualcomm’s OmniTRACS mobile communications system to track vehicles and to change the authentication codes remotely. If a dispatcher wishes — for example, if a truck is stolen — he or she also can disable a moving truck by limiting its speed so it can be stopped safely.

SkyBitz, GE Asset Intelligence and other companies promise a comparatively high degree of accuracy in tracking their devices, even to the detail of showing a truck’s location in a truck stop. If a customer thinks a trailer isn’t where it should be, he or she can go online and put an asset in “panic mode,” which will report every three minutes and create what SkyBitz’s Taylor described as a “breadcrumb trail” for law enforcement. She said the GLS 200 has been instrumental in recovering “millions and millions” of dollars of cargo and equipment. However, Erik Hoffer, president of CGM Applied Security Solutions, Punta Gorda, Fla., and a former chairman of educational seminars for the International Cargo Security Council, warned that any peace of mind the devices promise can be illusory.

Exterior units can be sabotaged simply by shearing off the antenna or covering them with foil, he said. That’s driving the trend for companies to develop wireless covert tracking devices, which then are buried in the cargo, making them far more difficult to detect and destroy.

Transport Security’s new En-forcer Trax 2000 uses assisted global positioning system technology, or A-GPS. A-GPS units, which are about the size of a cellphone, have an internal antenna that allows them to transmit through a land-based network even when hidden within cargo in a warehouse. Regular GPS needs “open sky” to function.

Using a covert system, however, requires a close relationship with shippers, carriers and customers. The technology is so new, said John Albrecht, vice president of Transport Security, Waconia, Minn., that the protocols are still being worked out for how to handle returning the devices after loads are delivered. Hoffer said the hardware used in Web-based systems is virtually identical. “In order to use all the features within the hardware, the software has to be user-friendly,” he said.

“It’s got to be a no-brainer . . . and the more features you have within the software to utilize the hardware, the more productive you will be.” Hoffer said he believes tracking devices ultimately work best when they stick with their core purpose — aiding logistics. The best security, he said, is to “harden” the target, using more sophisticated locks. He cited his own company’s patented TS4A Tractor Brake Lock. “We have 6,000 of these out in the street, and no one’s been able to steal [a truck] yet,” Hoffer said. “As opposed to an indicative technology like a geofence, our product prohibits the guy from taking the thing in the first place.” Transport Security has its Air Cuff Lock, invented by a truck driver.

“We’ve saved, that we know of, five to eight tractors in the last few months,” Albrecht said. Intermodal cargo containers from CakeBoxx LLC, Aurora, Ore., do away with doors altogether, lifting over a trailer platform like a cover on a cake stand.

The container interior cannot be accessed or compromised without a crane or another lifting device, or by cutting through the walls of the container — in either case, an obvious and easily discovered activity. Contents stay safe from theft and from unauthorized cargo additions. Some manufacturers have made locks more high-tech.

For example, the Gitcon G-2 Portable Access Control System from Kaba Mas Corp., Lexington, Ky., uses RFID technology to deny or grant access. Manufacturers of security systems may have a vested interest in “over-amplifying” crime, said Curtis Shewchuk, chief security officer with Con-way Freight, a less-than-truckload carrier with headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. Con-way Freight is a subsidiary of Con-way Inc., San Mateo, Calif., which ranks No. 6 on the Transport Topics 100 for-hire list.

 “The information that’s available to us from the regional security councils that we participate in and law enforcement agencies,” he said, “is that an insignificant amount of hijackings takes place, when you consider the overall movement of tractors and trailers throughout the United States on a daily basis.”

Shewchuk, who also is national chairman of the Security Council of American Trucking Associations, said Con-way has had zero hijackings, partly because, he said, the mixed-commodity nature of LTL makes it an unattractive target for thieves.

Menlo Logistics, a third-party logistics provider and another Con-way Inc.’s subsidiary, has had few incidents. Susan Chandler, executive director of ATA’s Safety & Loss Prevention Management Council and its Security Council, said the volume of cargo theft appears to be stable, although the value of what’s stolen continues to climb.

“The large crime rings are getting better at targeting high-value loads,” she said. In her experience, Chandler said, most motor carriers invest in tracking systems for efficiency, not to deter cargo theft or prevent vehicles from being used for illegal purposes. She said she hasn’t seen these devices have any measurable effect on cargo theft: “Most large crime rings have already figured out how to disable these systems fairly quickly.” The best way to safeguard cargo, Chandler said, is so “boring that no one wants to write about it.”

Protection entails maintaining a paper trail on what is in the truck and what should be there at the end of the load, reviewing the cargo in the manifest, locking the trailer in a safe place, keeping schedules private and hiring honest employees.

“When you talk to the carriers that are most successful in keeping down their cargo theft numbers,” Chandler said, “it’s the tried-and-true practices: It’s training the driver. It’s doing background checks. It’s making them accountable to delivery schedules.”

This story appears in the March 19 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.


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