10 steps to loading dock security

Companies in all industries struggle to secure the loading dock, that sensitive spot where goods come in and go out. Follow these best practices and sleep better tonight.

It's the stuff of CSO nightmares. Early on the morning of September 2, while most folks were home sleeping off the hot dogs, thieves used bolt cutters to break into an Alltel Communications warehouse and four of its loading docks in Fort Smith, Ark. Sources say they escaped with an estimated US$10 million worth of cell phones, not a bad haul for their Labor Day efforts.

The burglary had been extensively planned. Fort Smith police said the thieves apparently seized the opportunity to strike when they knew the warehouse would be closed for several days over the holiday weekend, entering through a hole they cut through the ceiling of the warehouse. They managed to disable the alarm and surveillance systems before helping themselves to four tractor-trailers loaded with cell phones.

Unfortunately, this highly detailed, finely executed attack is typical of today's loading dock thefts, according to Dan Purtell, president of the supply chain security division for First Advantage, a security services firm. (Alltel did not respond to requests for an interview.)

"This was a very organized group that did a lot of work before they hit the facility," says Purtell. "These guys spend as much time as they need to do the research necessary to pull off a heist like this." And when warehouses and loading docks get hit these days, the losses tend to be big.

But loading dock security is not just about loss prevention. Today, many companies bolster their physical security measures for the loading dock and elsewhere in order to comply with regulations ranging from the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) to the Free and Secure Trade Program (FAST) to vertical industry-specific versions. Many of these regulations are now voluntary and are designed to attract companies with the promise of faster trade clearance in exchange for compliance. Progressive companies are addressing compliance now, so that they will be ready if the regulations ever become mandatory.

In the meantime, they enjoy the perks that go along with compliance while also reaping the benefits of enhanced security. Securing the loading dock is no simple undertaking, however. As with most things, it requires a mix of procedures, training and technology. Experts and CSOs in the trenches recommend that you start with the following best practices:

Take a risk-based approach

Air Products, a US$10 billion gases and chemicals company, has a consistent security program across its operations in more than 40 countries globally. But some regions are unstable enough to require additional security measures layered on top of the existing program, according to Marc Murphy, global supply chain security lead for Air Products. "Our approach to security is risk-based, first and foremost. In areas where we have concerns, we make the appropriate choices for security there." According to Purtell, high-risk areas include Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, the UK, Russia and the Netherlands.

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