In Safe Hands: A behind-the-scenes look at cargo security audits

Elad Gadot doesn’t smoke, but he stood drinking coffee from a paper cup outside the security corridor – the last place for warehouse workers to grab a smoke before heading back inside. All around him, old ladies were doing booming business hawking cigarettes and drinks to the workers at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX), who had a few minutes to kill before their shifts started, and Gadot listened in to the casual conversations.

Why, with security technology more advanced than ever, was Gadot still listening in on idle chatter between truck drivers and forklift operators? “It’s one of the best ways to really find out what’s happening on the warehouse floor,” he said. “People tend to talk during smoke breaks.”

This winter, he spent a lot of time in Mexico City, conducting two security validations and navigating a complex web of technological and human factors to ensure that his clients are employing the most stringent security protocols.

Gadot – no relation to the actress who played Wonder Woman – founded security firm Corposec after running security for DHL Express Austria because “the certification process is the best way for companies to achieve a high level of security compliance.” That mission brought him to MEX to conduct ACC3 security validations for Israeli cargo airline CAL Cargo, and RA3 validation for its warehouse agent, Borderless Air Cargo, one of the largest cargo handlers at the airport (see Definitions Sidebar).

CAL Cargo decided to pursue ACC3 verification for its Mexico operation in order to be able to fly between Mexico and Europe. “We need the flexibility to route flights through Europe,” explained Avi Segev, director of ground operations and security at CAL Cargo Airlines. “We decided to have this station validated, and that means bringing our station and service provider here up to our level of security and making sure that all security standards are documented and implemented.”

With technology surging forward, a spate of hacking incidents and other high-tech crimes have promoted a new round of introspection. Shippers want to know if their data, inventory and reputations are still secure. And now that more cargo than ever is flying in widebody bellies, companies that handle cargo are under increased pressure to ensure that their cargo is properly screened because lives are at risk, and terrorist organizations are employing increasingly sophisticated methods.

For logistics companies, their very existence is premised on expertise and trustworthiness. Shippers trust them with their freight because they believe their product is in safe hands. But how can they be sure? Security audits like these can help answer the question.

Security audits are also about more than just preventing terrorism. Another threat that has been growing in recent months is cargo theft. A few months back, Gadot spoke via phone to a major logistics company that was missing a pallet of high-value electronics from its warehouse in London Heathrow. “Nobody wants to invest in security until its too late,” Gadot lamented.

Weeks later, he told Air Cargo World, those same electronics started showing up on the shelves of legitimate retailers. Whoever was behind the heist knew what they were doing, and they had inside connections. At airports, criminals tend to target handling facilities, often with airside access – the most secure parts of airports. Using deception as their modus operandi, these insider criminals steal hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cargo from under the noses of airfreight companies.

It’s not just corporations, said Jason Breakwell, vice chairman of the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) program for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. There’s a national disparity in reporting.

“We’d like to get more airlines on board, so that we know where their priorities lie,” he said. In January, TAPA warned of “an ominous start to 2018,” as losses rose 18.5 percent, year-over-year, for the month across the EMEA region. During the month, some of the more brazen heists included two trailers loaded with 44 tonnes of chocolate, worth €400,000, stolen in the German town of Freiburg, Baden-Wurttemberg, and €567,830 worth of handbags swiped in from an airport in Milton Keynes, U.K.

That same data is a powerful motivator. TAPA is pushing for more visibility into this area of security, and then using its findings to thwart criminals in high-crime areas.

Solving the security puzzle

Back at MEX, Gadot was making sure that security perceptions mirror reality, but he did encounter problems. He had a hard time proving that there are fool-proof screening protocols for the warehouse, despite being inundated with documents and other safeguards. RA3 standards require X-ray and explosives scanning for high-risk cargo, and Gadot couldn’t seem to nail down exactly who does what, where and, just as importantly, how each process was verified.

Soon, he had to get involved with an unpropitiously named airport security provider, Ingeneria en Sistemas Integrales de Seguridad Privada (yes, that stands for ISIS), to make sure that MEX’s explosives testing equipment, training and documenting procedures were up to snuff.

After some back-and-forth, Gadot finally confirmed that the security screening does, in fact, meet RA3 standards. The ISIS employees finally convinced him that they had the necessary equipment, training and security background to meet European standards – but it was a tough sell. “It’s not just the equipment,” Gadot explained. He also had to look at who was doing the screening, their procedures, the training and the recruitment procedure.

“It’s like completing a puzzle,” Gadot said. “I’m piecing together training procedures, manuals, security protocols and other documentation into reports that prove that CAL Cargo and Borderless meet ACC3 and RA3 standards.”

 

It’s the human factor

“I sleep well because we have the right procedures in place,” explains Rafael Rubin de Celis, one of Borderless’ shareholders, sitting at a table covered with paperwork detailing hiring policies and background checks, while Gadot worked his way through an HR folder. “Our staff is always on location, and the human factor is our strongest security measure,” Rubin de Celis said.

Borderless has been scrambling to accommodate rising air cargo volumes, and the company is adding dozens of employees every month. With the risk of insider threats, Rubin de Celis acknowledged his liability risks. “If there’s a problem involving cargo from our warehouse, it’s our responsibility. We’re no longer just a warehouse in Mexico. If something happens, it’s going to be a worldwide affair.”

But, how does he ensure that he’s hiring the right people? And how does he prove that to Gadot, who was still working his way through a mountain of paperwork across the table?

Borderless has a three-to-four-hour window to handle freight between landing and takeoff. “If we don’t have results-oriented employees, we’re not going to meet our obligations,” Rubin de Celis said. “If an employee doesn’t have that commitment, it’s better that they leave.” That means new full-time recruits get a 90-day trial period before they can become employees; not everyone makes the cut.

And while most folks are on their phones checking Twitter or Instagram before bed, Borderless managers are keeping an eye on the warehouse. “I can access our CCTV cameras from my phone anywhere in the world,” Rubin de Celis told Air Cargo World, pulling out his phone and scrolling through dozens of cameras. “If there is a problem, I can see it here.”

“The human factor is the most important factor in the security chain,” agreed CAL Cargo’s Segev. “We have technology that can clear threats, but there will be always be humans involved in cargo security. If you don’t cover the human security factor, you can’t guarantee cargo security.”

As an Israeli company, CAL Cargo is at the forefront of counter-terrorism efforts. CAL Cargo’s standards already meet Israeli regulations – which are famously strict – meaning that they do extensive research into all potential employees. “Threats can be anywhere, at any stage of the supply chain,” Segev said. “That’s why it’s important to carry out a risk analysis and constantly ensure that the security response meets the threat. If not, then improvements must be made to provide an immediate response to a new threat.”

Across the industry, carriers and forwarders are realizing that technology isn’t enough by itself. “In spite of the increasing digitalization in our industry, it is ultimately the employees who decide how good our services are,” said Antonio Knezevic, DHL Global Forwarding’s head of security and operational resilience (DGF Europe). “Despite all the security technology, clear processes, training and close cooperation with all, transportation partners are still decisive for a good or bad security performance.”

That’s what Gadot was there to do – find proof of these capabilities. And since the companies know what’s expected of them, they have had to review their own policies to make sure their security standards actually work.

Making the grade

Like an evaluator for an end-of-year exam, Gadot assembled the Borderless and CAL Cargo management for their final results. It was Friday afternoon, and both men were wrapping up four days of intensive paperwork, on-site inspection of equipment, procedures and other security considerations. Unlike some inspectors, whose surprise visits instill fear in the hearts of managers, validators like Gadot are invited. Security is good for business. Nonetheless, there was a certain trepidation in the air.

“Everyone has demonstrated a very high-level security, screening, procedures, training and recruitment procedures, and I’m pleased to say that we have a strong case for certification,” he tells the managers, who were suddenly all smiles. Someone clapped.

Gadot later confided to Air Cargo World that not all audits go quite a well and that he’s had to advise against certification in the past.

A few weeks after hearing the good news, Rubin de Celis said that Borderless has decided to buy a new dual-view X-ray system, based on Gadot’s recommendations during the validation. “The validation showed us areas where we still needed to improve,” he said.

By early March, Gadot finally received confirmation that both Borderless and CAL Cargo passed their respective RA3 and ACC3 certifications with flying colors. “It’s all about preparation,” he concluded. “As long as everyone understands what’s expected, validations are the best way to make sure your cargo is safe.”

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