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The global supply chain consists of the supply, manufacturing, storage, distribution, and retail entities that transform raw materials into finished products in the hands of consumers. Historically, the main security concern has been loss of cargo, but increased concern about terrorism has brought the vulnerability of shipping containers to attention. Since an attack on a port could be deadly and economy-crippling, new security measurements have proliferated — some of which may add delays and damage efficiency. But has all this made the system more secure or less secure? How will we know? This report lays out a framework for analyzing the structure of the container supply chain and how the parts interact. The authors offer a series of preliminary conclusions about gaps in the current security approach, then lay out directions for further research. The authors recommend, for instance, that the public sector seek to bolster the fault tolerance and resilience of the system, while the government should be responsible for assessing security and for decisions to close ports.

The research in the public interest described in this report results from the RAND Corporation’s continuing program of self-initiated research. Support for such research is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND’s contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

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