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Standard for Seals on Imported Containers Is Vital for Homeland Security

On Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C., Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge expressed concern about containers entering the United States. “We’re at war against terrorists,” he said to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “We have 5.7 million containers that come across, because of commercial international shipping, into our ports. It is legitimately perceived as a potential vulnerability. ...Working with Congress, we’ve helped cities and counties and states improve their defenses against terrorism. ... And I think we have built new and lasting partnerships at every level of government and the private sector.”

ASTM Subcommittee F12.56 on Security Seals is one of many private organizations working for homeland security. Part of ASTM Committee F12 on Security Systems, the subcommittee invites security professionals to revise a crucial standard practice for seals on maritime containers entering the United States. The document, ASTM F 1157, Standard Practice for Classifying the Relative Performance of the Physical Properties of Security Seals, covers pull, shear, bending, impact, and temperature tests for indicative (plastic strips) and barrier (bolt or cable) security seals.

Department of Defense Security Seals project manager Dennis How, PE, Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center, Port Hueneme, Calif., describes the government’s use of security seals. “From a Department of Defense view,” he says, “all services use security seals to authenticate and indicate tampering of sensitive materials, such as cargo shipments, ammunition storage, and calibrated electronics. The current U.S. Government Federal Specification FF-S-2738A (Seals, Antipilferage) references ASTM F 1157. Mechanical testing procedures under the current ASTM F 1157 standard practice is somewhat open to interpretation and this can lead to test biases. The revised standard will ensure seals are tested and rated in an objective and repeatable manner, independent of manufacturer or test laboratory.”

ASTM International has five standards for security seals covering performance, inspection, tampering, accountability, and classification. “With the events of last September, security seals are that much more imperative,” says Jerry Peck, Transportation Marketing manager, E.J. Brooks Co., Livingston, N.J., the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of security seals and locking devices.

“There are several important initiatives underway that involve the U.S. Customs Service, Department of Transportation, Coast Guard, experts in private industry, and other government agencies,” says Peck. “They’ve convened in many different groups since Sept. 11 with the intent of determining a common standard for intermodal containers.” At any given time there could be as many as 4,000 intermodal containers on board a ship to the United States, according to Peck. “The overriding concern on everyone’s mind is that terrorists could surreptitiously place a weapon of mass destruction within one of these containers,” he says. “So Herculean efforts have been expended to develop an acceptable standard to ensure the safe and efficient flow of goods within the maritime industry.”

“All users will benefit from a standardized procedure to test, evaluate, and rank relative performance of seals,” says How, who co-chairs the ASTM subcommittee with Peck. “Performance information will aid the user in comparing and choosing a proper seal for a specific application. And performance information can help manufacturers market their seals.”

ASTM Subcommittee F12.56 encourages industry stakeholders to participate in the revision of Standard F 1157. “I’m trying to attract as many interested participants as possible,” concludes Peck. “Everyone should have a voice, and multiple contributors from many areas of industry will assure a better standard.”
Contact Jerry Peck, Livingston, N.J. (phone: 973/597-2900) or Dennis How, PE, Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center, Port Hueneme, Calif. (phone: 805/982-6086). ASTM Committee F12 meets April 8-9 in Kansas City, Mo. For meeting or membership details, contact Joe Hugo, manager, Technical Committee Operations, ASTM International (phone: 610/832-9740). //

Copyright 2002, ASTM