Daily Archives: October 30, 2006

Your Supply Chain is NOT Secure!

The September (2006) issue of IEEE Spectrum ran an article entitled Nine Cautionary Tales designed to illustrate that we are not really prepared if terrorists decide to strike again, despite all of the spending on security initiatives and press statements.

However, what it does make abundantly clear is that no matter what you think, your supply chain is NOT secure – regardless of how safe you think your supply chain is or what voluntary security initiatives you might subscribe to. What does this mean? First of all, if security is critical, you need to take extra steps to insure that security is there. More importantly, it tells us that you should be prepared for disruption and have plans in place to deal with that disruption and mitigate the effects quickly and without serious incident.

So just how are they insecure? Let’s examine each of their scenarios.

Bomb in a Box

Scenario: A crazy dictator threatens to detonate a 2-kiloton atomic bomb hidden inside a shipping container somewhere in a major port city (which could do more damage then the 22-kiloton airburst that devastated Nagasaki at the end of World War II).

Danger: With 90% of international cargo now traveling in standard containers, and your average port only able to manually investigate a very small percentage, it would not be too difficult for a terrorist to hide a large bomb in random port container, detonate it, and damage hundreds, if not thousands, of neighboring containers.


Scenario: Terrorists take out part of the power grid and a whole city, state, or even region goes dark – just as the US Northeast, Midwest, and southeastern Canada simultaneously failed in 2003.

Danger: There are about 1000 high-voltage transformers in the US that step voltage down from transmission levels (typically above 100 kilovolts) to distribution voltages (in the tens of kilovolts) across the US. Most are secured by nothing more than a chain link fence. Each one of these takes down a portion of the grid. The simultaneous knock-out of a handful of these could overload the grid and take out a very large portion of it. This could shut down significant parts of your operation – cold.

Toxic Train Wreck

Scenario: A terrorist blows a hole in the side of a tank car transporting toxic chemicals, such as chlorine gas.

Danger: The gas escapes and blankets the nearby area, making it uninhabitable and killing anyone who can’t escape quickly. Operations run on people – no people, no operations.

Crude Attack

Scenario: A highly trained commando squad blows up a refinery.

Danger: A very expensive processing plant is destroyed, toxic smoke fills the air, oil supply drops, and energy prices skyrocket.


Scenario: A small group of terrorists infect small groups of cows with mad-cow disease in geographically remote parts of the country. (The virus that causes this disease is harmless to humans.)

Danger: In order to contain what appears to be a burgeoning epidemic, hundreds of million of cattle are slaughtered across the country, significantly decreasing food supplies, driving up food costs, and making the terrorists, who invested in the futures market, rich in the process.

Black Christmas

Scenario: Terrorists blanket shopping malls with open containers of mercaptan, the highly volatile and noxious-smelling chemical ordinarily used to signal the presence of propane gas, and postal offices with anthrax stimulants.

Danger: Christmas sales plummet as consumers fear malls and deliveries can not be made. Furthermore, if the terrorists make threats to use real propane and anthrax next year if their messages go unheeded, Christmas sales, your primary revenue generators, are destined to be low for years to come.

Star Struck

Scenario: A group of highly trained activists take over the Academy Awards Ceremony.

Danger: This scenario applies to any function you hold with a number of important people.

A Farmer’s Fury

Scenario: A group of angry farmers make truck-bombs using their unrestricted access to ammonium nitrate fertilizer, drive them up to a building, walk away, and detonate them using a remote detonator.

Danger: This could be accomplished by any group with access to the right raw materials – farmers, distributor employees, manufacturer employees, etc.

Too Much – Or Too Little

Scenario: In the future, airline security has lapsed to pre-9/11 levels as the urgency to protect the homeland has subsided with reduced terrorist attacks and a new government.

Danger: Someone could walk on the plane with a shoe-bomb. More importantly, if security lapses across the board, it will be easier not only for terrorist attacks, but theft.

So what can you do? Tune in tomorrow!