Tech Success: ITS Services gets trucks moving FAST

IT solutions in action

Project: The Free and Secure Trade Initiative

Agency: Homeland Security Department, the Customs and Border Protection Bureau

Partners:ITS Services Inc., Springfield, Va.; DataCard Group, Minnetonka, Minn.; Intermec Technologies Corp., Everett, Wash.; and TransCore, Beaverton, Ore.

Goal: The Customs and Border Protection Bureau wanted to let low-risk trucks bypass inspections at Canadian border ports.

Obstacle: Inspection stations needed a way to automatically identify low-risk trucks and detain them for as short a time as possible.

Solution: Integrator ITS developed a wireless system to identify the trucks. Radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags are placed on the truck and on the drivers' ID cards. When a truck approaches a border port, the driver shows the card, and the system matches the card with the truck.

 Payoff: More than 70 percent of the freight traffic between Canada and the United States is identified through the system, cutting inspection time down for individual vehicles. Customs extended the contract with ITS to equip six Mexican-U.S. border crossings.

Jill Thompson, ITS group vice president

Olivier Douliery

RFID technologies speed freight through border points

Despite more rigorous checking of cargo moving through U.S.-Canadian border points since Sept. 11, 2001, the Customs and Border Protection Bureau is reducing the time for freight border checks at some locations, thanks to a new initiative overseen by the ITS Services Inc., Springfield, Va.

To meet the needs of the Free and Secure Trade, or FAST, initiative, ITS Services used wireless technologies from Intermec Technologies Corp., Everett, Wash., wireless support from TransCore, Beaverton, Ore., and card printers from the DataCard Group, Minnetonka, Minn.

The Customs and Border Protection Bureau, part of the Homeland Security Department, wanted a system that would identify low-risk freight traffic. Certain trucking companies that frequently hauled cargo through the ports were willing to register trucks and their drivers to expedite the process.

"The purpose of FAST is to identify low-risk trucks that bring trade across the borders," said Jill Thompson, ITS Services group vice president. Each participating trucking company has complied with guidelines from the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism initiative, in which carriers volunteer information and work more closely with the government to streamline border inspections.

The Homeland Security Department wanted ITS Services to set up six border ports within five months. The initial contract was awarded in November 2002 for $1.2 million. The company set up a processing center and created five enrollment centers, where truck drivers get identification cards and radio frequency identification tags.

Now, when an enrolled truck comes into one of these border points, an RFID reader identifies the individual and the vehicle. The driver also holds up the identification card, which is read by a reader.

"It moves the trade more expeditiously. It allows agents to spend more time targeting more high-risk vehicles," Thompson said. Twenty-seven traffic lanes have been equipped, so nearly nearly 70 percent of cross border freight traffic with Canada can use the system.

In completing FAST, ITS turned to a number of vendors. One new technology it sought was RFID. Low-cost RFID tags are being used increasingly by government agencies to identify assets. As part of its unique identification initiative, the Defense Department has asked all of its suppliers to include RFID tags in their products by 2005.

RFID tags can be read more quickly than bar codes, thus reducing the time needed to identify drivers and vehicles. ITS Services had not worked with RFID systems before, so it to turned to TransCore to set up the wireless communications systems that allow readers to identify trucks.

TransCore "had a documented track record of being able to implement this technology. It was familiar with Customs," Thompson said. It provides the windshield sticker tags, blank identification cards and inspection-booth reader equipment.

TransCore used wireless handheld readers manufactured by Intermec. With 2,700 employees, Intermec is a subsidiary of Unova Inc., Woodland Hills, Calif. Unova's Automated Data Systems division, which comprises Intermec, reported revenue of $744.4 million and net income of $110.2 million for 2002, compared to 2001 revenue of $655.1 million and a loss of $14.8 million.

Intermec has been known for bar-code scanners. It entered the government RFID market early, said Dan Bodnar, director of data capture systems for the company.

Unlike bar codes, RFID tags do not need to be in clear sight of a reader, Bodnar said, so they may be read at night or in fog. ITS Services uses the 1555 handheld reader, which runs about $3,000, he said.

To print the identification cards for truck drivers, ITS Services used DataCard, which had government experience in producing similar cards, Thompson said. TransCore provides the blank cards with embedded RFID chips. DataCard prints a photograph, the logo and the required information on the card.

Since completing the initial FAST project along the Canadian border, ITS Services has been contracted to equip another six ports, or 65 lanes, along the border with Mexico, bringing the contract value to $5.7 million.

With more than 400 employees, ITS Services has been operating since 1991 and focuses on telecommunications, application development and enterprise architecture. The company expects more wireless work within the federal government.

"We see potential within the Department of Homeland Security to take this technology in a variety of ways," Thompson said.

Joab Jackson, Government Computer News associate editor, can be reached at jjackson@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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