Geospatial Intelligence: Part Six – Supply Chain Safety and Security


Geospatial intelligence can be used to detect, deter, and counteract cargo and equipment theft, fraud, kidnappings and hijackings, mishandling of products, and IP theft using tools such as asset monitoring, geofencing, supply chain monitoring, and other means. It can also help in enabling employee communications and safety during natural disasters and other emergencies.


This article is an excerpt from the report Geospatial Intelligence: Powering the Next Wave of Supply Chain Performance.
A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.

In Part Five of this series, we looked at the role of geospatial intelligence in providing traceability and provenance assurance capabilities. Here in Part Six, we examine how geospatial intelligence can aid in ensuring safety and security in supply chains.

Supply Chain Safety and Security

Supply chains are susceptible to a number of security risks, including cargo theft, intellectual property theft, vehicle and equipment theft, piracy and hijacking, kidnapping of travelling employees, tampering with containers (such as to smuggle contraband), tainted products, mishandled products (e.g. driver fails to precool a reefer carrying temperature-sensitive items), and various types of fraud; such as bribery, fake samples, fraudulent trade documents, forged letters of credit, purchasing fraud, and so forth. A GIS platform will not be the sole tool to prevent and solve these, but can be an important part of the overall approach to strengthening supply chain safety and security.

Asset Monitoring

Source: Photo Mix from Pixabay

Cargo theft is a persistent longstanding problem. With far-flung global supply chains comes additional risk, particularly in low cost labor countries or fragile states1 which may have fewer and less effective policing resources and more active criminal elements. Worldwide annual losses from cargo theft are estimated at $50B-$60B. Popular targets include food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, building materials, semiconductors, apparel and footwear, industrial materials and equipment, and the truck itself.

Theft of inventory at rest is an even larger problem than the cargo theft. Just in the retail industry in the U.S. alone, there was about $40B of theft last year. There are many different methods2 to tackling theft. High on the list is asset monitoring, such as video surveillance (increasingly via machine-learning-based video analytics), EAS (electronic article surveillance) tags, RFID, motion detection, and other means.

Data from asset monitoring can become part of a company’s Live Global Operating Picture and can be used in many different ways to generate additional value beyond security, such as for inventory management, or asset scheduling. An example of this is described in the case study below (page 35) on how Bristow Helicopter monitors and manages their fleet of aircraft using a GIS platform, which incorporates geofencing alerts and other data used in their control center.

Geofencing and Vehicle Intrusion Detection

By equipping trucks with real-time GPS tracking and geofencing the routes, an alert can be generated when trucks deviate from the planned route. Alerts can also be generated when there is an unexpected stop. These alerts can be prioritized when the unplanned stop is in an area of elevated theft risk. Some trucks contain trailer seal locks that notify when the truck is being opened in a location where it is not supposed to be opened (i.e. not the origin or destination site). Thieves have been known to cut a hole in the side of the truck if there is an alarm-enabled seal on it. So, for particularly sensitive or valuable shipments, trucks may be equipped with a light sensor in the trailer or cargo van, which will go off as soon as it is exposed to light. The driver may be provided with a panic button as well. Some trucks are equipped with one or more security cameras. Taken altogether, these sensors and monitoring systems can provide the alerts and situational awareness for an operator to take notice and respond.

Control Center Operator Tools

If any of these alerts occur, an operator at a control center is notified. Typically, the control center will have monitors showing maps and other information. The GIS system can immediately show the location of the incident on a map and provide all the needed details such as the name and phone number of the driver, contents of the vehicle, origin and destination, vehicle details (license #, make/model, color and markings), phone numbers for nearest police or security services, phone numbers for nearby towing and repair stations, vehicle camera feeds, and so forth. The operator may also be presented with step-by-step instructions such as call the driver first, then different steps depending on the circumstances they uncover. A driver stopping to use the washroom vs. the engine seized up vs. a robbery in progress; each of these requires different actions. Trucks equipped with hidden GPS equipment may be tracked after being stolen as well.3

Ensuring Flight Safety for Service Delivery and Emergency Rescue

Bristow Group is a leading provider of industrial aviation services offering helicopter transportation, search and rescue (SAR), and aircraft support services to government and civil organizations worldwide. Bristow operates and maintains a fleet of about 250 helicopters and 50 fixed-wing aircraft. They use a GIS platform as the centerpiece for tracking, monitoring, and communicating with the aircraft in real time.

Flight information is entered into the GIS-based flight tracking system based on either the flight plan submitted by the pilots in the cockpit or the flight schedule populated by the scheduling department in a separate enterprise platform for Flight Operations (Bristow eFlight). The GIS platform is being integrated directly with the eFlight platform.

The GIS system is used by Bristow’s Global Flight Following Center to monitor the aircraft, receive alerts, communicate with pilots, and manage actions related to each flight. In the “Flight Following Room,” the GIS map is displayed on a big screen on the wall, with the real-time positions of all aircraft and an overlay of the current local weather conditions.

Source: Bristow Group
Figure 1 – Tracking Helicopters

Employee Training and Safety

Employee and contractor training are an important part of supply chain safety and security. A training program can be part of the contract and relationship with key carriers, to educate their drivers in theft and hijack awareness and prevention. Similarly, gate operators and shipping department workers can be trained how to spot signs that a driver picking up a load may be fraudulent. A common mode of theft is for cargo thieves to watch the facility and follow a departing truck, waiting for it to stop. Drivers may be trained to drive at least 200 miles or four hours before making a stop, as well as to take notice if they are being followed by the same vehicle since near the pickup location. The GIS system could be programmed to send an alert if the driver stops too soon.

A GIS system can be useful for providing various tools for the safety of other employees that are traveling away from their home area. This can include training for those employees, as well as sending alerts to them and to safety managers when various events (such as conflicts, political upheaval, natural disasters, etc.) occur in the areas they are in or traveling to. For more on this, see Employee Tracking and Mustering During Emergencies, below.

Cold Chain Alerts and Response

Temperature sensors within the cargo space, pallet, or each case can also be used to provide temperature excursion alerts to help prevent damage to temperature-sensitive food, pharmaceuticals, or materials. An alert might be sent if the driver has forgotten to start precooling their trailer, or left the door open, or if there is an equipment malfunction. A central operator can be presented with all the information and various options, such as contacting the driver or dispatching a repair technician to meet the truck at the next scheduled stop.

In these examples, where alerts are being sent to a centralized operations center, the platform can provide integrated communications with the driver such as auto-dialing their phone, auto-generating situation-specific template-based text messages and alerts, sending specific instructions to the driver, and gathering specific information from the driver via a form or data directly pulled from the vehicle and attached equipment.

By enabling rich bi-directional communications, the driver and the operations center can work in a coordinated way to solve the problem.

Employee Tracking and Mustering During Emergencies

Employers have both a legal4 and moral ‘duty of care’ responsibility for the wellbeing of their employees. During any supply chain disruption, emergency, or disaster, it is important to monitor and mitigate risks to employees. This requires knowing which employees are potentially in harm’s way, exactly where they are, and whether they need help. This is true for both local crises (such as building on fire or an active shooter situation) or a broader disaster (earthquake, civil war, wild fires, etc.). In either case, there is a need to monitor the situation, locate employees, communicate with them, and potentially help get them out of harm’s way and get medical care.

The foundation for this is employee location tracking. For traveling employees, that could be done via a combination of their travel bookings (for advanced notification) and a mobile phone app that keeps track of their current location in real time. When travel plans are known in advance, employees can be warned of risks and advised of special precautions to take, approved safe hotels and locations, and so forth. When employee locations are known in real time, the same GIS platform that determines which facilities are at risk can be used to determine which employees are potentially at risk as well.

The security officer can now have a control center dashboard and map showing all employees who are traveling and whether they are likely to need help. A red/yellow/green indicator scheme might be used to indicate and group employees according to whether they are ‘likely at risk,’ ‘maybe at risk,’ or ‘not at risk.’ Ideally the system automatically reaches out to potentially at-risk employees, using email, text, IVR,5 or other means, to alert them to the danger, provide instructions, and ask their status and needs. Instruction could include evacuation routes for the facility they are at, or instructions to leave their hotel and take a cab to a specific gathering point, or telling an executive who is walking towards an emerging riot or other disaster to change directions. The system can be used as a response command center, keeping track of which employees have responded and which haven’t, which employees have needs such as evacuation or medical attention, and continually updating the status of the emergency response and the location and status of each employee.

For emergencies local to a single company-owned plant or other facility, employees and guests may be tracked via an RTLS6 system, via access control cards, or via a combination of these and/or other means. Access control cards can indicate which employees have entered and exited the building or restricted areas within a building. An RTLS system can provide a more precise location which can be useful in high risk environments, such as a chemical plant, where emergency responders may need to know exactly where a downed worker is. Seconds count when a fire rages or dangerous chemicals have been released. RTLS can work well with a GIS system using a map of the facility, such as the floorplan of the building or plant. It can be used to create a mustering system to ensure that all employees have made it to safety.

Supply Chain Safety and Security Certifications and Centralized Dashboard

A GIS system can bring together tools, data, and a view of all aspects of safety and security, not just cargo theft, but also kidnapping, exposure to natural hazards, employee safety, and so forth. It can also be used to keep track of efforts to create or certify more secure facilities throughout the supply chain, including various yards, consolidation and deconsolidation facilities, staging areas, and the security practices of the various logistics providers. The system can be used to collect data about these facilities, such as the type of fencing, presence and diligence of gate guards, type and extent of surveillance system, access control systems, type and extent of vetting of employees before hiring, anti-collusion procedures, and so forth. As with sustainability or overall risk management, a GIS system’s mobile data collection app can be used to do onsite inspections and collect accurate location information and images, combined with internet survey forms, to collect all this information. These data may be useful for C-TPAT,7 AEO,8 or other supply chain security certification. The GIS platform can provide a central dashboard with composite scores and a map to highlight where improvements are most needed.

In Part Seven of this series, we look at the role of geospatial intelligence in the service supply chain.


1 Fragile states are those that are more vulnerable to chaos, conflict, and collapse. — Return to article text above
2 Such as vetting of employees, anti-collusion measures, physical security, audits, biometrics, and so forth. — Return to article text above
3 Trucks may also be equipped with the ability for the Control Center operator to remotely disable the starter. — Return to article text above
4 The legal responsibility for duty of care varies by jurisdiction. However, a responsible company will maintain their own standards for duty of care that exceeds the minimum legal requirements by a significant margin. — Return to article text above
5 IVR = Interactive Voice Response, where the employee is auto-dialed and uses phone keypad and/or voice to interact with the system. — Return to article text above
6 RTLS = Real-Time Locating System to track the location of items or people within a building or local space. The range, accuracy, and cost of these systems varies widely, depending on the technology used. — Return to article text above
7 CTPAT = Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism which is a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection by which importers who have gone through a certification process are granted expedited customs clearance. — Return to article text above
8 AEO = Authorized Economic Operator which refers to a company that has been certified by their national customs administration as complying with the World Customs Organization’s SAFE standards (standards to “Secure and Facilitate global trade”). — Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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