The incident highlights how vulnerable the global supply chain is and thus how easily terrorism could slow, or even halt, a substantial share of global commerce. Terrorists typically look for opportunities, not only to murder innocent people, but also to choke off economic activity. Disrupting the supply chain is like cutting off oxygen to the economy.
Anti-terrorism attention in the United States and around the world will now focus on the supply chain, and industry executives should prepare for more scrutiny and possibly new mandates about inspection and packaging.
Apparently air cargo shipments are not being consistently inspected today. According to a Nov. 1 article in The Wall Street Journal, only 50 percent of all air cargo worldwide is screened. It is telling that we did not find these bombs from any screening or inspection. Rather, we were tipped off by former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Jabir al-Fayfi, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Also telling is the fact that no government official would say — and they were repeatedly asked by the media — that they were confident that there were no other package bombs flying around in cargo planes. Their response, or lack thereof, does not inspire confidence.
Watch for these potential ramifications:
- Congressional action. Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who wrote a 2007 law that requires 100 percent screening of air cargo in passenger planes at US airports, plans to introduce legislation this month to mandate the same screening requirements for all-cargo planes. “Friday's incident shows that al Qaeda is well aware of this loophole in the system, and they fully intend to exploit it,” Markey said in a statement. “It is time for the shipping industry and the business community to accept the reality that more needs to be done to secure cargo planes so that they cannot be turned into a delivery system for bombs targeting our country.” (See: House lawmaker plans legislation to require screening for all-cargo aircraft.)
- Heightened security for shipments from, or traveling through, suspected countries, and perhaps for all shipments regardless of route. According to Adrian Gonzalez, a writer for Logistics Viewpoints, many supply chain professionals can’t pinpoint the exact routes their supplies travel.
- Requirements for new or different packaging. The FedEx and UPS bombs were in printer cartridges shipped inside laser printers. New regulations or mandates may very well specify new packaging techniques designed to enable easier inspection.
If you don’t know the exact shipping routes of your goods, find out now. Do you know if your shipments pass through dangerous areas? Even if they do not pass through the Mideast, remember that terrorism knows no national boundaries. In the last several years there have been terrorist attacks in Indonesia, India, Great Britain, and Spain, just to name a few.
The timing of this heightened scrutiny shows just how easy it is to cripple our commerce. As the holiday season gets underway, caution and perhaps new regulations will slow down shipments. Just think about how much longer it takes for a passenger to board a plane today, and you get an idea of the potential for delay.
These are just the most obvious implications. There are certainly plenty of others. How has the package bomb incident affected your supply chain so far? What are you bracing for?
Tam Harbert has been covering electronics since the dawn of surface-mount technology. She lives online at tamharbert.com