Telematics and cargo: Cracking down on theft

Telematics and cargo: Cracking down on theft

Cargo theft has been around as long as people have transported raw materials and manufactured goods from one place to another. Unfortunately, as the methods of freight carriage became more complex, so did the criminal methods focused on them.

In the EU alone, cargo theft costs businesses more than €8.2 billion per year. And that's just for reported incidents; experts believe official statistics reflect only a small percentage of actual thefts. In the US, the FBI estimates, the figure has reached $30 billion a year and is likely to increase further. Most of the goods—electronics, pharma products, clothing, footwear, cigarettes—are stolen from trucks but sometimes also from shipping containers, cargo lanes and warehouses.

And cargo theft has many victims: Aside from the direct monetary loss, shippers face indirect costs for goods replacement, higher insurance premiums as well as loss of reputation. State and local governments lose sales tax revenues. The good news is, under the aegis of the Transport Asset Protection Association (TAPA), a growing number of producers and manufacturers, logistics companies, freight insurers, security firms, supply-chain consultants and other stakeholders in Europe, the Americas, and Africa are using telematics to address the threat.

"By sharing information, establishing ever more stringent security standards and lobbying legislators and law enforcers," says TAPA board member Luc van Herck, a transport security specialist at Nike, "we aim to identify target areas where losses occur most frequently, share industry best practices to prevent further incidents, and gain official support."

Real-time intelligence

The organization's Web-based Incident Information Service (IIS), for instance, continuously captures and shares online data on where a theft has happened to a TAPA member, what kind of load was stolen, and which modus operandi was used so that other TAPA members can use that real-time intelligence "to avoid incident hotspots," says van Herck, "protect their goods in transit and, if required, to report and trace stolen property." Additional data comes from insurance claims and law enforcement statistics.

Since the system is based on Google maps, it is easy to use: incident locations are marked on a road map and haulers or shippers only need to check whether that spot lies on their fleet route. TAPA's Trucking Security Requirements (TSR) specify the minimum acceptable safety standards for road transport of valuable products and materials and the methods that should be used by shippers and logistics providers to maintain them. The Freight Security Requirements (FRS), in turn, specify corresponding standards and procedures for goods handling and storing in transit.

In addition to locks that prevent the separation of tractor and trailer and brake release/shut down devices, there are plenty of other telematics tech that can help. Geofencing devices can trigger an alarm if a rig travels outside its predetermined route or enters high-risk areas. GPS-enabled track and trace solutions can locate stolen vehicles. Both, especially when equipped with anti-jam mechanisms, may significantly improve vehicle or load recovery processes, especially handy when stolen property leaves a state or country jurisdiction.

Beyond the driver's cab

Yet security mechanisms are no longer just found in the driver's cab. Holistic telematics security units like Novacom Europe's externally powered Vwise, for instance, provides real-time information and analytics about truck, trailer and load, including a whole array of wireless sensors placed at strategic points in or on the tractor-trailer. When one of these concealed devices registers certain pre-defined events—a door opening, a lock unsealed, a curtain tampered with—the unit's modem sends out an alarm to the network-operating center via GSM/GPRS or satellite. The center can then alert the end user.

Such start-to-finish monitoring systems are particularly important these days, says Willem Duijf, sales and marketing director at Novacom Europe, because many of the trailers shuttling thousands of miles "across Europe to take cargo from point of supply chain inception to destination are passed on from one hauler to another, left unattended on ferries, and picked up by yet another carrier company again."

Tracking Freight

Even the freight itself can be tracked and traced. Affixed to pallet, crate, carton, or even individual items, always-on M2M sensors can monitor asset condition (factors such as ambient and product temperature, air quality, weight, lighting) and location along the entire supply chain, keeping fleet managers informed of any unauthorized or unscheduled events. (For more on M2M, see Telematics and M2M: New business models and Telematics and M2M communications: Creating the Internet of things.)

"Any chain of security devices can be sabotaged or destroyed by criminals," admits Duijf, "but we are trying to make this as difficult as possible by creating better asset protection, detection, protection, and visibility." All that is an ongoing process, he adds: "Technology is evolving as we speak, getting more and more comprehensive. It's a cat-and-mouse game."

What counts most in the end, says van Herck, is not the technology. Instead, it is people's 100% commitment to working "in concert to accurately adopt and audit" the standards. "You can have all the alarms you want," he argues, "but if you don't get people to implement and respond to them, they won't work."

So far, TAPA's efforts have proved remarkably successful. Members who comply with the organization's standards have seen a reduction in their overall losses, especially compared to the rest of the industry, according to van Herck. Since it introduced TSR, Nike "has been able to reduce the number of cargo theft incidents by 90%."

Ursula Sautter is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on cargo tracking, see How telematics keeps cargo management on track.

For all the latest telematics trends, visit Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2012 on March 26–27 in Amsterdam. Also, check out V2X Safety & Mobility 2012 USA on March 20-21 in Novi, MI, Content & Apps for Automotive 2012 on April 18-19 in Germany, and Telematics Detroit 2012 on June 6-7.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports on In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.


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