Security and You

World Courier discusses the various security screening options open to companies when it comes to transporting consignments.

Published in Clinical Trials Insight

There is a protocol that you follow when you go to the airport as an individual traveller: you hand over a ticket or flash a boarding pass on your mobile phone screen to get past the first step, and then go through security, where you are checked for metal, weapons and quantities of liquids in excess of, typically, 100ml.

Consignments are subject to a similar process when they are tendered to an airline, and, like passengers, have to be checked in by a certain time, which is known as the ‘close-out’. In addition, shipments may pass through many hands before being loaded into the cargo hold, and there are various ways in which they can be screened.

By default, they will be subjected to an X-ray, using either a mobile or static screening unit. The machines employed are considerably more powerful and larger than the ones your hand luggage passes through—and need to be in order to detect the contents of packages that are at least the size of pallets. Some mobile units are even large enough to screen trucks.

“Acceptable screening methods include X-ray, explosive trace detection, and ‘open and inspect’.”

But there are materials that cannot be X-rayed, such as biological samples, cord blood and some sensitive pharmaceutical supplies. It is possible to request that these are hand searched by the airline, although often they will also be put through the X-ray machine as a matter of course. Hand searching, meanwhile, is unlikely to be acceptable for clinical trial supplies, as product boxes need to be unsealed, and it certainly is not an option for clinical samples such as blood and urine.

Decompression testing, where the packages are placed in a chamber and the pressure changed to replicate the experience of flight, is an alternative method of screening that’s still performed in a few countries, although the Department for Transport (DfT) in the UK stopped using this method in 2012.

Another option is explosive-detection dogs, which are known by different acronyms in different places; for example REST (remote explosive scent tracing) or RASCO (remote air sampling for canine olfaction). Luckily, the dogs do not climb all over your precious consignment. Instead, samples of air are taken from around the contents and piped into a separate room where the dogs are positioned. Dogs’ noses are thousands of times more sensitive than commercially available machines, but the procedure takes time, which, when dealing with temperature-sensitive products packed in time-limited thermal packaging, can reduce the lifespan of a shipment.

If your shipment cannot be X-rayed then it may be possible to have it screened by your freight forwarder or speciality courier. If you are shipping to or from the US or EU then it is necessary to follow either the rules imposed by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which mandated that all cargo shipments loaded on passenger aircraft undergo screening for explosives, or the European Commission’s Regulation 859/2011, which requires cargo to be pre-screened.

Do it yourself

In the US, the TSA developed the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), which created three ways for companies to screen cargo. Shippers can become certified cargo-screening facilities and screen their own shipments as part of the packaging process, ensuring product integrity. They can also choose a courier company which, following certification by the TSA, is permitted to screen cargo for transport and meet all chain-of-custody requirements. Acceptable screening methods include X-ray, explosive trace detection, and ‘open and inspect’, so care should be taken in selecting a courier that will protect product integrity. The third option is to have all cargo screened at the airport. This may include X-ray exposure and could take additional time, resulting in delays.

In the UK, the system is run by the DfT, with similar government departments carrying out the role in other European countries. Companies can apply to be registered as regulated agents, subject to stringent approval processes, requiring record checks on staff, security training and appropriate facilities with high levels of security.

Trained staff can attend collections to certify cargo and issue a consignment security declaration, which allows packages to be tendered to the airline as secure cargo (SPX). Alternatively, shippers can apply to become known consignors, which allows them to certify their own cargo. This speeds shipments through airports and means that those consignments that would be damaged by X-rays can be treated individually to avoid this.

The security improvements made to the supply chain cannot be overestimated, allowing companies not only to undertake their shipping responsibilities but additionally to comply with other regulations such a the Falsified Medicines Directive 2011/62/EU.

As an independent air carrier and regulated agent, World Courier can assist with all your shipping needs.