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10 Tips for Choosing Cargo Seals

10 Tips for Choosing Cargo Seals

Between recent port controversies, the threat of terrorists and that of regular criminals looking to swindle your goods, cargo security seals have grown significantly more important -- and more sophisticated. Here are 10 things to consider for choosing cargo seals wisely.


passed up a considered-noteworthy opportunity to make an immediate difference in the improvement of security at the nation's ports. The decision came with a vote by a House-Senate conference committee to strip $648 million for port security out of an emergency funding package. The money — by no means "feel-good" money — would have been used to buy container-imaging machines, add inspectors to oversee security at 50 foreign ports and bolster Coast Guard inspections domestically and overseas.

As containers are at the core of international trade today, there are anywhere between 9 million and 11 million of them that enter American ports.

Inspectors now check less than five percent of them.
Unfortunately, the supply chains of the world have not perceived security as an economic advantage, Forbes recently noted. Instead, "security has been seen as a cost — and a complicated cost at that. Still, the vulnerability is there, and some way must be found to cope with the risks intelligently."

There's little doubt that ports are vulnerable. The recent controversy surrounding port security has emphasized the critical need for a secure global supply chain.

As such, and between terrorist threats and your two-bit criminals looking to snag your goods, cargo security seals have grown increasingly more important — and more sophisticated.

As there are now a variety of mechanical and electronic freight seals from which to choose, Erik Hoffer of CGM Applied Security Technologies Inc. recently offered Inbound Logistics 10 tips for selecting the right cargo seals. The CGM/Inbound Logistics cargo-security recommendations are as follows:
1. Understand what you are protecting.
Companies must evaluate the nature and level of threats to their cargo and/or vehicles. Perform historical research and evaluate each seal category for its relative effectiveness in the environment and conditions in which it will be put to use.

2. Determine the value of your loads to thieves or terrorists.
Some products are more likely than others to be stolen, so different threats require different seals.

3. Educate yourself about seals.
If you don't understand the differences of seal types, you won't know what type you need. However, physical properties of indicative and barrier seals are not the criteria to judge their ability to defend your load. Rather, the seal's placement on the door is the main criteria for these two types' effectiveness.

4. Analyze your shipping modes.
Shipping small packages will differ from shipping a full truckload or container-load, for instance. The transport mode you use to ship products — e.g., trailer, container, pallet, small parcel or a combination of containers — determines what kind of seal you need.

5. Understand customs regulations.
When sending shipments to international destinations, you must understand Customs and Border Patrol's (CBP) shipping rules, and consequently purchase the correct seals. This task is easier said than done.

6. Analyze how easy a seal is to install and remove.
Though you may select a seal for its ability to secure a load, it does not mean your consignee will accept it. So provide carriers and consignees with training and a reasonable template to assist them in validating the seal at all times, and ensure that consignees have the proper tools and knowledge to remove the seal once a shipment is delivered.

7. Examine the seals' inspectability outside the normal chain of freight custody.
Can non-skilled inspectors look at the seal and understand that it was breached? Can an anomaly be easily detected, even if the inspector is unskilled? Any aspect of the seal that can be implicitly understood as a possible breach is a positive factor in seal choice.

8. Look beyond price.
Price is too often the deciding factor in seal selection. To ensure the security of freight in transit, you will have to spend money. This is simply a cost of doing business. Select seals based on their quality and appropriateness for your cargo type, shipping mode and physical environment first — then shop price.

9. Understand the accountability of seals at origin.
If a seal can be replicated, or if sequential numbers are not used, it can become suspect. Without sufficient standards for the issuance and control of the seals, their effectiveness is diminished. Each packaging and bundling component needs its own unique seal type.

10. Investigate quality, and solicit quotes and data.
Invite seal manufacturers to discuss with your staff and demonstrate their products. Have vendors explain their lock and seal techniques, then do your own "black hat" comparison before making a choice, Hoffer suggests. Examine the manufacturers' seals' compatibility with CBP requirements and suitability to your supply chain. As well, explore remedy with your insurance carrier. Underwriters will help steer you in the right direction. Do not choose seals in a vacuum, as you may not be up to date on your cargo's threat de jour.