Create a successful public-private agency partnership based on good communications, flexibility, and minimal impact to partners' customers to deploy new technology.
A Washington State experience with testing of electronic container door seals through a freight supply chain.
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United States

WSDOT Intermodal Data Linkages Freight ITS Operational Test Evaluation Final Report Part 1: Electronic Container Seals Evaluation


In 1999, under a U.S. DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Intermodal Freight Field Operational Test Program, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) entered into a partnership with a number of public and private organizations to test an operational prototype system to track intermodal cargo containers with disposable electronic seals (E-seals). Disposable E-seals were chosen for this test because of their potentially low mass production cost. The primary goal of this test was to follow a seal through the supply chain of a container shipment. The validation process included determining the integrity of the E-seal and recording the time and place of each seal transaction (i.e., each location where the E-seal was “read” by a device). This was accomplished remotely by reader antennas or by humans with hand-held readers. The use of E-seal technology was expected to facilitate border clearance activities and commercial vehicle enforcement, as well as streamline operations for both regulatory agencies and private sector transportation companies.

This lesson learned is based on a 2002 evaluation of the border truck crossing ITS project by Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) and on input from the WSDOT project manager.

Lessons Learned

Over the duration of this ITS project, there were considerable institutional, technological, and operational challenges that adversely affected the project schedule. The project’s public and private partners exhibited dogged persistence in resolving these issues. In the end, the successful working relationships among the partners resulted in the development and deployment of a successful system, despite a one-year schedule slip.

The evaluation identified a number of elements that contributed to this successful partnership:

  • Recognize that communication among participants is important. For this project, the stakeholders remained supportive of the program over a fairly lengthy deployment process; in large part this was due to a good working relationship fostered by a strong communication process. Successful communications efforts included regular project conference calls, stakeholder group meetings, and presentations about the project to trade organizations.
  • Support flexibility on the part of the stakeholders. Flexibility will contribute to the success of a public-private partnership. For example, while deploying this ITS, operations staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Customs Service, and several marine shipping lines and trucking companies were willing to establish new operating procedures within the confines of the test while still maintaining their own daily business functions.
  • Design the deployment so that there is minimal impact to the partners' customers. It was critical to the private freight industry partners that their participation in the project not result in any disruption to their customers For example, in an effort to minimize interactions with customers, one shipping line provided an agent to install the E-seals in the Japanese port and instructed its truck drivers to cut off the E-seals after they exited the United States.

The good working relationships among the project’s public and private participants helped ensure that the E-Seal test moved forward. The ensuing flexibility and effective communications enabled this test to be a success. Although there were considerable delays due to both operational and technological issues, the project was completed due to the cooperation and dedication of the partners.

WSDOT Intermodal Data Linkages Freight ITS Operational Test Evaluation Final Report Part 1: Electronic Container Seals Evaluation

WSDOT Intermodal Data Linkages Freight ITS Operational Test Evaluation Final Report Part 1: Electronic Container Seals Evaluation
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M. Jensen, M. Williamson, R. Sanchez, A. Newton, C. Mitchell
U.S. Department of Transportation

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