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Freight Security Stressed


National transportation leaders Saturday urged government and industry to set aside their competitive and political disputes in order to craft advanced technologies to protect freight supply chains from terrorist attacks.

"We've got to keep competition out of security," said Gene Pentimonti, a consultant to the U.S. Department of Transportation, "and we've got to make real progress."

His comments came during a gathering of about 200 transportation technology and security experts at the start of a three-day national conference at the Long Beach Convention Center.

"We've seen a significant lack of government leadership on this issue, while industry has launched a lot of small group problem-solving sessions," said Pentimonti, an expert in the movement of freight. "God bless them. But what we really need are huge solutions involving international networks."

The stakes could not be higher. Federal authorities and industry leaders fear that another attack could prompt self-imposed blockades of ports, choking supply chain flows and sapping the economy.

The 10,000-member U.S. Customs Service is able to screen only a fraction of the 20- to 40-foot-long containers that arrive each year loaded with goods ranging from car parts and frozen chicken feet to toys and athletic shoes.

But forging new procedures for ensuring that all those nondescript metal boxes--and their modes of delivery--are tamper-proof will not be easy, experts say.

The nation's marine transportation system handles more than 2 billion tons of freight, 3 billion tons of oil and 7 million containers annually. It is linked to a logistics chain of shipping agents, carriers, tugboats, terminals, dockworkers, regulatory agencies, railroads, truckers, brokers, customs agencies and warehouse operations.

Given the complexity of the challenge, transportation leaders have set a handful of critical objectives. They include the development of globally uniform technical standards, databases and high-tech security devices.

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