Within the business world, the number one rule is speed and efficiency. These ideas are carried out in many ways but almost always take trial and error to get to perfection. This includes within government created programs such as the Certified Cargo Screening Program which was created to ensure all cargo is 100% screened before entering the airways on passenger aircraft. With its inception came a new way to protect American citizens, but also came challenges that needed to be overcome to get the program to peak performance.

The Problems With Current Cargo Screening Technology

Within the United States, there have been many moments where foreign or domestic terror has threatened or ended the lives of thousands of people. The most notable terrorist event is the somber day of September 11th, 2001. The events of that day and the days following shed light on where the United States lacked proper security and prevention measures against people trying to harm American citizens. In response to these noted holes in the system, the TSA’s 100% Cargo Screening Mandate was created. This mandate is part of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007 which was signed in August by the current president at the time, George W. Bush. The program created the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP) which screened 100% of cargo traveling on passenger aircraft originating within the United States for explosives by TSA standards. Those standards are:

  • Comply with safeguarding measures created by TSA’s Security program
  • Make sure there is no corruption of the cargo throughout the chain of custody
  • Permit onsite validations and periodic inspections
  • Screen cargo as individual items and not by palletized items

Over time the program has expanded to include Certified Cargo Screening Facility (CCSF) which are third-party cargo forwarders such as manufacturers, warehouses, distribution centers, third-party logistics providers, indirect air carriers, airport cargo handlers, and independent cargo screening facilities. These facilities helped to take the pressure off the CCSP within airports as there was more cargo to be screened than resources available. Even with this improvement, the CCSP encountered more issues that needed to be solved. The biggest was directly related to one of the screening rules created by TSA.

There are an estimated three hundred companies that have become involved in the CCSP as Certified Cargo Screening Facilities. Within the facilities are multiple types of technology that work to satisfy the screening requirements presented by TSA. This technology includes:

  • X-Ray Devices: currently three classifications used (Single view, Dual View, and Multi View)
  • Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) Devices: handheld or desktop devices that provide a reading of residual explosive material using a swab-based collection process
  • Electronic Metal Detection (EMD) Devices: electromagnetic fields are detected by the device and an alarm is displayed if threshold levels have been exceeded

Although all this technology has its beneficial functions within the program, they all lack one important feature. Since cargo has to be screened at an individual piece level, the technology currently used cannot screen cargo efficiently when it is presented in a palletized form. The cargo becomes too big for the technology and therefore has to be taken apart, screened, and put back together. This process not only slows the flow of commerce but slows the overall efficiency of the Certified Cargo Screening Program.

The TSA’s 100% Mandate Presents Challenges

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The United States transportation systems in the air, on land, or within the oceans are specifically designed with accessibility and efficiency in mind. Unfortunately, this also makes the system susceptible to being used for terror attacks. One of the biggest challenges for Congress in creating the CCSP and CCSF was constructing a system that provided deterrence, protection, and response that worked efficiently to curtail any and all possibilities of terrorist attacks within the aviation industry while still keeping the industry accessible and efficient. The system also needed to preserve the travel, flow of commerce, and civil liberties accepted by United States citizens.

An initial challenge in regards to the 100% Mandate was funding. When the legislation was passed, Congress did not set aside any funding towards the screening process. That meant that the air cargo industry must cover the costs. This funding complication made it hard for airlines to pay for extraneous processes such as the breakdown and reassembling of cargo that was palletized. Not only was it cost ineffective for them, but it was also time and resource ineffective. Along with limited money to allocate to palletized screening complications, airlines also had limited space to take apart pallets, screen individual piece-level items and then reassemble pallets before they were loaded onto aircraft.

Another issue with this mandate is that cargo shipments that were once palletized could get possible “contamination” by being physically inspected. This contamination is a higher risk than expected and easily happens while cargo waits on freight forwarders, airline docks, and vehicles. Both issues are directly impacting the Certified Cargo Screen Program, the facilities under the program, and the overall flow of commerce within the industry. As the economy recovers and cargo shipments increase or exceed their original intensities, these challenges will only be inflamed.

K9s Improve Air Cargo Screening Security

In an effort to combat efficiency issues the CCSP looked into new ways to screen palletized cargo and regular cargo with less pressure on costs and labor. The solution was to introduce and implement canine and handler teams. The first program created was the  National Explosive Detection Canine Team Program (NEDCTP). After implementation, the CCSP saw issues involving costs and production of canine and handler teams. Third-party companies were not brought in because of a lack of a system to regulate whether each canine and handler team had proper explosive training as mandated by TSA. Eventually, the NEDCTP realized it needed third-party teams. The Third-Party Canine-Cargo (3PK9 or 3PK9-C) Program was the responding program created in 2018 to bridge the gap between the public and private sectors. Regulations and certifications were created to train K9 teams and eventually the program was renamed the Certified Cargo Screening Facility-K9 (CCSF-K9).

With 320 sensory receptors in their noses, canines present the unique ability to dissect an aroma down to parts per million (ppt). With this ability, they can distinguish between many types of smells, and in turn explosives with efficiency and reliability that no human or machine has been able to provide to the program.  Along with their biological sensory, canines also have a database of smells which has been created over thousands of years of evolution, and grows with each new smell a canine processes. Many of these smells are ones that humans do not know exist as they cannot smell it themselves. The relationship between canines and humans give the CCSP a cost and time efficient way of identifying explosive threats within cargo before it enters our air. The K9 program has been growing quickly since its start in 2018 and performance testing has shown results that canine screening is 97% faster and more efficient than the technology currently in use within Certified Cargo Screening Facilities. As this program grows, so will the deterrence, protection, and response was given to all parties involved in business and the flow of commerce.


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