Private Sector Canine Teams: The Fix to Air Cargo Screening Delays

Security Back Story

In 2007 the 9/11 Commission’s Recommendations Act mandated that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screen 100% of all cargo on passenger flights no later than August 2010. This mandate requires that all cargo be screened by TSA-approved methods which are defined as: x-ray systems, explosives detection systems, explosives trace detection, or explosive detection canine teams certified by the TSA. The TSA determined in their internal analysis that conducting screening operations at a single point of entry would be insufficient in accomplishing this requirement without resulting in significant carrier delays, cargo backlogs, and transit time increases. In order to mitigate this impact the TSA developed the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP). The CCSP hinges around the screening cargo early in the air cargo supply chain by a trusted, vetted, and audited private industry Certified Cargo Screening Facilities (CCSF).

CCSFs have become the solution to counter the concerns with the single-point of entry methodology.  Providing multiple points for cargo to be screened eliminates the potential for backlogs and delays. CCSFs are instrumental in establishing and maintaining shipment integrity throughout the supply chain.  CCSFs must adhere to TSA-directed security standards, employ stringent chain of custody practices, and are subject to Transportation Security Inspector – Cargo (TSI-C) inspections.

Air Cargo Industry Trends

Over the past five years, the air cargo industry has continued to expand and recover from the great recession. The driving force behind this recovery is the increased demand for shipment of high-value time-sensitive loads. A multitude of industries rely heavily upon air transport in order to reach target markets in an efficient manner. The forecast for the air cargo industry is to grow an additional 3.5% over the next five years, according to IBISWorld Industry Report published in April 2016. Currently, U.S. Domestic freight transport totals 51.9% of the industries revenue; this percentage is likely to increase as more and more U.S. companies are offering direct home delivery of goods.

The Problem

Technology suited for cargo screening is highly effective and continues to evolve. Manufacturers are frequently introducing new forms of machinery accepted by TSA and purchased by CCSFs. In addition to the initial costs of this technology and the re-certification requirements, the challenge is a lack of TSA-approved devices capable of screening full pallets containing multiple types of goods. This results in a labor intensive and time consuming process of de-palletized all the goods, screening individual items, and  then re-palletized the packages. The solution to screening full pallets are explosive detection canines.

The Canine Solution

Explosive detection canines have the natural ability to distinguish a single odor and identify its source, providing real-time mobile detection. Harnessing the canine’s enhanced odor sensitivity and their unique social relationship with humans, canines have proven to be the most effective and reliable method to identify explosive threats. Explosive detection canines are the solution the air cargo industry to protect their customers, employees, facilities, and brand.

Current State

The TSA has established the National Explosive Detection Canine Team Program (NEDCTP), which has been subject to multiple Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports and heavily monitored by congressional leaders. Concerns have been raised regarding the NEDCTP’s cost efficiency, and its ability to produce the required number of canine detection teams. The primary focus of the NEDCTP has been supporting passenger screening operations in airport terminals. Freight facilities have limited access to the resources due to their scarcity.

The Private Sector / Third Party Canine Solution

Private sector companies provide a solution to address the need for more canine resources to support CCSFs. Identified by key Airfreight Forwards such as Mr. Brandon Fried the executive director of the U.S. Airforwarders Association; “private sector canines can play a vital role in providing an effective tool in the cargo-screening chest”.

In 2011, the TSA conducted a cost analysis of the use of private sector canines at CCSFs. The TSA concluded that private sector canines were not a feasible solution, making the assumption that the associated costs outweighed the industry’s demand. They shelved the idea. The underlining reasons for this conclusion are up for debate as private sector canine teams have been found more cost effective by a multitude of independent third party research efforts. In May of 2011 the University of Southern California (USC) School of Policy, Planning and Development produced a report which concluded: “Our findings suggest that it is feasible for TSA to contract with private canine companies in a similar method as with CCSFs”.  Mr. Fried has also made note that the TSA’s 2011 research into private sector canines didn’t take in to account the economies of scale that the CCSFs will be able to gain by sharing these teams as common resources.

Moving Forward 

Congressional Leaders have heard the concerns of the air cargo industry and have taken steps to address them.  The 2017 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bills calls for the use of private sector canines to augment the TSA’s internal capabilities. These Bills were passed by both the House and Senate which shows unity on Capitol Hill to provide real solutions to this problem. Separately, the TSA itself has been conducting market surveys in what appear to be a move in the same direction.

VWK9 fully supports these efforts and stands ready to provide any assistance wherever necessary.