Monday, September 29, 2008

TIH Shipment Tracking

Back in June I noted (see: “Hazmat Cargo Notification”) that there should be technology available to provide real-time tracking of railcars that could provide local notification of Hazmat transit. I also proposed that the same technology could be used to detect leaks and notify first responders. Well, last week Dow Chemical announced at the LogiChem Conference, that they were using a technology solution to track their toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) rail shipments that might meet those requirements.


The combination of hardware and software is provided by Savi Technology, a division of Lockheed-Martin (disclosure note, I come from an old Lockheed family. My dad worked for LMSC and my brother works at Lockheed Palmdale). The package is sold under the name Savi SmartChain Transportation Security System.


Leak Detection


The system uses a combination of technologies. GPS tracking combined with RFID, cell phone and satellite communications allows tracking the current location of the railcar. Electronic seals and intrusion detection technology allow for security monitoring. Temperature and pressure sensors can be used to monitor shipment conditions.


I was disappointed that their sales material does not specifically mention leak detection as one of the sensor packages that can be included in their system. For TIH shipments this is one of the most critical aspects of protecting people along the transportation right-of-way. Chemical sensors for TIH chemicals are readily available. I would assume that Savi Technology could readily integrate such sensors into their security package.


First Responder Notification


One thing that Savi claims that their system can do is to provide local first responders notification. “Geo-fencing capabilities that leverage satellite images enable identification of the nearest first responder in the case of an emergency or security threat.” Since their system uses both cell and satellite communication technology, it may be possible for Advanced 911 systems to receive automated cell phone calls from the railcar system for emergency notification.


It is not clear that the Savi TSS has the capability for routine notification to local law enforcement or first responders that a shipment is moving through a jurisdiction. It would seem that the advertised capabilities of their system could provide the hardware necessary for such a system. That leaves only software and coordination issues that might slow the implementation of such a notification system.


No More Placards


If all TIH railcars were equipped with technology like this we might be able to get rid of the requirement for such railcars to be placarded. Those placards make it easy for potential terrorists or criminals to identify the TIH railcars. The placards are currently required to allow first responders to identify the hazards that they would have to deal with in the event of an accident. If they were notified electronically of the location and condition of the TIH railcars, then there would no longer be a need for the visual identification provided by placards.


Anonymous said...

Only if you can be certain that rural responders can actually receive electronic notices.  We are a long ways away from reliable electronic communication for this purpose in the rural West.

Anonymous said...

Rail workers, fire chiefs, citizen watchdog groups and other also need placards to see what they are dealing with.  Did anyone at the conference mention the use of geo-fencing (I think the military's transportation folks might be) for re-routing hazmat around target cities.  No private company has announced any re-routing so far pursuant to the 9/11 Commission Act and the terrible regulations implementing it...

But Dow has announced a commendable re-sourcing of its chlorine shipments to the Midland MI plant, shortening the distance from 1200 to 400 miles and apparently avoiding Chicago.  See discussion in my FOE White Paper on hazmat safety and security issues in the Chicago EJ&E controversy:

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