By Tim Scannell
The early morning darkness is still wrapped around San Francisco Bay as a large truck approaches a security checkpoint
at the Port of Oakland, Calif., one of the busiest container ports in the United States.
the dim light, and from a distance, it is difficult to see the truck's markings
or its license plate. The truck shows no signs of stopping as it lines up with
the gate and prepares to enter the approximately 300-acre transportation
facility, which is a part of the larger marine terminal and sprawling 19-mile Port of Oakland complex that stretches across
the eastern shore of the bay.
personnel watch the truck as it emerges from the nighttime shadows and takes on
a more distinct form in the unforgiving glare of high-intensity lamps. It
continues through the gate without stopping, as the driver makes his way toward
the Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT) and seaport area.
year or so ago, this action could have triggered all sorts of security alarms
and forced guards to take measures to stop the truck and the driver--especially
as ports worldwide take a more cautious look at container trucks and their
cargo and try to keep pace with an increasing flow of shipping traffic. In this
case, however, the truck was identified and tracked long before it entered the
terminal area, thanks to an active radio frequency ID (RFID) transmitter
installed in the truck and a real-time locating system (RTLS) infrastructure in
place at the Port
of Oakland that is tied
into a cross-referencing transportation database.
"we had no idea what trucks were in the port and whether or not they even
belonged there," says Mike O'Brien, a 25-year Coast Guard veteran and commander
who was hired in January 2006 as the Port
of Oakland's chief
security officer. With more than 80 percent of the sea and air transportation
going through these westbound ports, and thousands of short- and long-haul
trucks entering each day, this security expert described early port activities
as a "wide open Wild West."
wanted a system that would register truckers and tell us who was in the port at
any given time," adds O'Brien. The goal was to "set up a system with better
land-side awareness, especially from a security standpoint."
a Top Concern
is one of the top reasons why most companies adopt RFID tracking systems,
according to ABI Research. A recent survey of more than 175 organizations
worldwide reveals that RFID solutions are rapidly moving beyond traditional
supply chain applications--where the technology got its first real and public
boost through adoption by mega-companies such as Wal-Mart--into others such as
asset management, security access control and other closed-loop environments.
"The business case and value proposition for RFID is being realized across many
types of organizations," notes Michael Laird, director of ABI Research.
of the security applications are being driven by the U.S. Department of
Defense, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and government mandates that
focus specifically on transportation and tracking issues.
asset management and control capabilities of both active and passive RFID are
also churning new business opportunities for makers of RFID middleware, as they
develop RFID-aware applications that increase the efficiency of current asset
tracking and inventory management software, says market research firm Frost
& Sullivan. The return on investment (ROI) benefits of RFID are more easily
measured when the technology is applied to existing closed-loop information
systems, says the research in a June 2007 report.
Clara-based WhereNet, a pioneer in RFID technology and wireless tracking
solutions, developed the RFID Truck Tracking and Identification system in use
at the Port of Oakland. The system is presently in use
at only one of eight terminal areas, although roughly 1,700 WhereNet
transmitters have been installed in about 50 to 60 percent of the short-haul,
or drayage, trucks that routinely enter and leave the facility. The goal is to
eventually have up to 95 percent of all trucks equipped with the active tags,
according to John Rosen, director of the company's marine division.
security guard can only do so good a job checking a driver's license and noting
the faces coming in and out of a facility," Rosen points out.
security was, of course, one of the primary reasons why the Port of Oakland
decided on active RFID as a solution--especially since the bulk of funding for
the system was provided by a DHS grant. But the system's ability to tap into
sources such as eModal's Port System and Trucker Check database software, and
eventually the Port of Oakland's own information resources, has also positioned
it as a capable logistics tool in managing the business aspects of this busy
example, the system can not only be used to identify a truck and driver within
30 seconds or so, but it can be matched with appointment schedules to
coordinate the flow of traffic and deliveries throughout the port area,
like the RFID tracing system since it speeds them through checkpoints and
security stations, making better use of their time and tight schedules. "It
provides a fast-track lane, if you will, for trucks to quickly get in and out
by using auto associations and clearances," says O'Brien.
a Clearer Picture
WhereNet system basically helps keep tabs on such information as the driver's
name, the truck size and other pertinent data. The information contained on
each truck's RFID transmitter is presently limited to the tag ID, which is
unique to each truck and driver. When the tag comes within range of an active
terminal at the Port
of Oakland, however, it
transfers this ID to the eModal database, which contains detailed information
on the driver, the truck's cargo and transportation schedules.
true benefit of the system is realized when it is integrated with other
management systems," says O'Brien. The aggregated information can even be
combined with GPS tracking data to pinpoint the progress of dangerous cargo
within the port area. "This paints a complete picture of where someone is and
where they are not supposed to be at any particular time," he added.
RFID transmitter is a little smaller than a pack of playing cards and attaches
to the driver's side rearview mirror with a custom mount, where it can easily
be seen by a security guard as a truck rolls through the gate. When affixed to
the driver's side mirror, the RFID device is also close to the pedestal and
microphone where the driver communicates with the terminal--much like someone
uses a drive-through kiosk to place an order for fast food, says WhereNet's
than be placed somewhere within the truck cab or body, the RFID tag is
deliberately installed in plain sight. "It provides visibility to the locate
infrastructure that we have in many of these ports while the truck is in the
facility," Rosen explains. "There is a benefit to knowing where these trucks
are by seeing them within the terminal."
has quite a bit of experience in transportation tracking applications, having
planned and executed a number of RFID deployments worldwide. In 2005, for
example, the company worked with the Broekman Group's automotive division in
The Netherlands to install one of the world's largest RFID tracking and
logistics systems in the Port
of Rotterdam. The
wireless system can be used to locate any one of 40,000 vehicles that are in
the 750,000-plus square-foot facility at any one time.
in the Crosshairs
and GPS tracking have come under fire from privacy advocates who maintain that
constant electronic surveillance can be abused and may inadvertently or
purposely violate personal privacy laws.
recently, the 8,400-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance threatened to strike
if the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission continued with plans to require GPS
tracking systems in New York's
13,000 taxis starting Oct. 1. The Commission maintains that GPS technology and
on-board touch-screen computers would allow patrons to pay by credit card and
find useful information about their destinations. Critics say that GPS devices
invade a driver's privacy since they can automatically track movements and
earlier, snow plow drivers in Massachusetts
balked at using GPS-enabled cell phones in their trucks and the state's
decision to provide seasonal contracts only to those drivers who agreed to use
the satellite-linked phones.
security concerns since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as mandates
coming from the DHS and other government agencies, have silenced many critics
of wireless tracking technology. The growing availability of state and federal
grants to fund RFID and other electronic tracking initiatives has made the
decision process a lot easier for many companies and agencies, especially as
they look beyond the security aspects of these systems to further explore the
benefits of logistics and asset management.
true benefit of this system will be realized when it is integrated with other
management systems that are coming or are already out there," says O'Brien.
Systems on the horizon include the Transportation Worker Identification
Credential (TWIC) network, which when used with the current RFID system can be
used not only to verify a trucker's identity but also to cross-match that
against a scheduling database to reveal if he or she has a business reason to
be at the Port of Oakland's marine terminal. This information can also be
linked to databases maintained by container and shipping corporations to
provide a more complete profile of a trucker and his cargo, notes O'Brien.
all of these things are integrated and put together in a smart fashion, it's
really going to improve the flow and improve security at the same time." //