Plugging the holes in shipping

Transportation Security Administration

Each year, the Jacksonville Port Authority's three terminals handle more than 7 million tons of cargo including nearly 550,000 vehicles. In addition, the Florida port also supports the passenger cruise business and is an outload port designated for military cargo transportation.

"We are one of the largest outload ports for Operation Enduring Freedom," security director Charles White said, referring to the war in Afghanistan. "So we have a very large military transportation command contingent on one of our terminal facilities."

Therefore, it is no surprise that port authority officials are relying significantly on various technologies, including intelligent surveillance systems and smart cards, to help protect the more than 1,000 acres the port sits on and the thousands of people who pass through its gates.

Port officials, in part, are responding to federal and state laws pushing for greater security measures. Port security is a complicated problem that ultimately rests in local hands.

"The goal from a seaport security standpoint is to leverage technology and our people to achieve domain awareness, meaning that we want to have situational awareness on our terminals at all times," White said. "We want to have the ability, first and foremost, to deter our adversaries — be they criminal or terrorists — detect them and defeat them."

Ports are increasingly using technologies, such as electronic seals on cargo containers, smart video camera systems and radiological detectors to improve information sharing and protect facilities and cargo.

Although technology can address some immediate concerns, it hasn't caught up to the complexity of the problem in many cases.

Many critics contend port security is lagging. The federal government has taken charge of airport security, but seaports and cargo require more dependence on public/private partnerships. Some experts say port officials are unwilling to spend money on tighter

security measures because they fear raising fees or hindering the flow of goods. Others say ports are different from one another in terms of management and revenue structures, so one solution does not fit every situation.

"I was in a meeting and somebody summarized it best: If you've seen one port, you've seen one port," said Raul Fernandez, chairman and chief executive officer of ObjectVideo, which develops smart video surveillance systems.

Others want greater federal attention and funding for ports because they are considered the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. Ports handle 95 percent of overseas cargo, and terrorists exploiting security vulnerabilities could inflict crippling blows.

"In my opinion, port security is the Achilles' heel on the war on terror," said Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) at a recent press conference at which Democrats unveiled a new, tougher port security bill. A terrorist attack on a barge could conceivably result in many casualties and set off a chain reaction causing billions of dollars in damage, he said.

White said ports must take an encompassing approach because there are risks along the entire supply chain that pertain to the nation's economic stability as much as to homeland security.

From facility security enhancements...

Florida and its 14 public seaports, including the one in Jacksonville, are participating in the Transportation Security Administration's Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) pilot test program. To prepare for TWIC, White said port officials have been building a new infrastructure with information technology connectivity to relay data to and from their pedestrian and vehicle gate access points. Cards with embedded biometric information would verify employee identification.

Many ports are also implementing intelligent video surveillance systems to help workers do their jobs. These systems can establish virtual perimeters within a camera's field of vision and alert security personnel of intruders, vehicles or events. The systems are so sophisticated that they can identify a bird in flight or ignore the motion of ocean waves.

Officials at the Virginia Port Authority recently implemented a system developed by Pyramid Vision, a company based in Arlington, Va., that can stabilize a shaky video. "It drastically cuts down on the false-alarm rate because you can take out all that random background motion," said Craig Chambers, the company's president and chief operating officer. "In a case where you have a moving camera, you don't have to wait for it to go to a new position before the algorithm kicks in, so we can cover much larger areas with a moving camera than our competition can."

The technology of ObjectVideo, based in Reston, Va., also draws virtual barriers around perimeters. The company has sold its system to Jacksonville port authorities.

Melchior Baltazar, a former Navy Seal who led operations at ports and is now ObjectVideo's critical infrastructure protection director, said elaborate rules can be set up for each camera.

For example, a loitering rule might instruct a camera to alert personnel if a boat of a certain size docks for more than five minutes.

White said city police officers can also connect to the system through mobile laptops in their cruisers, burn an image on a CD-ROM, zoom in on a scene or control the cameras. screening cargo domestically...

Port officials nationwide are also deploying advanced technologies within terminals to detect hazardous materials or explosives hidden in cargo.

Federal officials screen 5.7 million containers annually, but a sophisticated analysis scrutinizes the 2 percent to 3 percent that are considered high-risk. Officials at the Homeland Security Department, which has taken the lead in protecting the country's 361 seaports, are in the process of deploying radiation-detection portals and handheld devices to screen cargo containers.

But the challenge is daunting because delays could impede the flow of goods throughout the country. Port workers are using large X-ray machines, but they have drawbacks. They emit high levels of radiation and cannot penetrate certain materials. Other emerging nonintrusive imaging technologies, such as tetrahertz technology and neutron beams, are also being studied.

Most methods under consideration for screening containers have had problems, and no system seems best, said Tom Jensen, president and CEO of the National Safe Skies Alliance, a nonprofit group that provides impartial evaluation of security devices and systems. The group has been testing screening equipment for small containers and packages for the past year and will also examine larger equipment.

Officials are studying other screening technologies, such as

vapor-sensing devices and even one system that would detect a heartbeat in a container to find stowaways and illegal immigrants, for example, he said.

"I think it's in kind of a shakedown period right now as to how it ultimately would be done," Jensen added. screening cargo abroad.

The federal government is making pre-emptive efforts by inspecting cargo and determining risk before shipments reach U.S. shores. Private-sector officials are also exploring ways to embed technology along the supply chain from the point of origin.

In late 2003, the ports of Laem Chabang, Thailand, and Seattle participated in an international project to test new

security protocols, business procedures and technologies for an end-to-end supply chain demonstration crossing the Pacific Ocean.

"Where this is all leading to eventually is the notion of green lanes or fast lanes, and what you're going to see happening is [there will] be commercial...incentives just like there are to get the pass on your car to go through the fast lane on the toll road," said Steve Cooperman, vice president of Oracle Corp., one of several companies that participated in the project. Asset tracking could also reduce theft and insurance costs, he said.

"Government agencies are predominantly looking at security embedded in that trade lane and couple that with shippers, importers looking for cost-effective solutions, and if you can achieve both of those objectives, you can achieve a very viable solution," said Jim Havelka, vice president of BearingPoint's border security and global trade management practice, which analyzed the trade project.

Officials at the participating companies and governments are trying to apply the study to see how they can create several trade lanes among several ports, said Laurance Alvarado, managing director of BearingPoint's border security and global trade management practice. But, he added, government officials must be wary of mandating processes or technologies because they could have a ripple effect throughout the industry.

"Every time the government sneezes, somebody in Australia catches a cold," he said. "So if you say, 'I'm going to mandate

e-seals' or 'I'm going to mandate this' or 'I'm going to mandate advance information,' that means my policies, my procedures, my back-end systems, everything else has to go ahead and have some sort of standards compliance and training associated with that."

The federal government's role

Officials at TSA, the Coast Guard, and the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, all part of DHS, are helping port officials with security by developing facility and security assessments, providing grants and assisting in the evaluation of technologies, for example.

"TSA will not be purchasing technologies for use at ports," agency spokeswoman Andrea Fuentes wrote in an e-mail. "TSA will evaluate and document the capabilities of technologies and, working with port stakeholders, to determine their needs and provide a list of qualified technologies that can be used to meet those needs."

Fuentes added TSA officials and others would also determine if airport technologies could work at seaports. "The challenges are numerous, with the most significant being the size and openness of our ports and designing security systems that will support the movement of people and commerce in that environment," she said.

Since June 2002, TSA has provided about $516 million in port security grants in three previous funding rounds. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, the awards funded only 19 percent of submitted proposals.

John Paczkowski, director of operations and emergency management at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, one of the largest ports in the country, said a security audit revealed the authority needed to invest about $1 billion for security. Of that, $500 million would be for security technologies such as closed circuit TV, intrusion-detection alarms, perimeter-detection devices and sensors.

The Jacksonville Port Authority has received about $4 million in federal grants for security, but that's not nearly enough, White said. However, he said, federal officials have provided valuable expertise. "This is coffee-cup diplomacy where it's easy to go across the river, sit down with the Coast Guard, have a cup coffee, talk the issues out and come to a right answer," he said.

Applications for a fourth round of TSA grants worth $49.5 million are due in early June. Eligible projects include access controls, physical security, surveillance, communication, cargo and passenger security, radiological-detection equipment and terminal-based common operating picture systems.

House Democrats contend that many security gaps remain. They recently proposed the Secure Containers from Overseas and Seaports from Terrorism Act, or Secure COAST Act, that would accelerate many of the federal initiatives and provide a larger pot of money.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), prime sponsor of the bill, said nearly $300 million would be allocated to complete installation of radiation detectors at all ports. The bill would also establish cargo container standards so more reliable shipper data is transmitted to ports, thereby improving container security.

She said there are areas in which technology can make a difference. For example, a San Jose, Calif., company has developed a $10 reusable, reprogrammable radio tag that can track a container's location and tell if it has been opened.

"Am I suggesting we use that technology? No," she said at a recent press conference. "What I'm suggesting is we want the [officials at an] agency to sit down and think about what is the best way in which we know what's in a container, [how to] seal a container well, get it to one of our ports [and] know that's what's in there. And how do we minimize what we need to check but still check enough to ensure that there's some standard level of reliability in our methods? And none of that has really been done yet."

White said a paradigm shift is needed within the business and that stakeholders need to understand that technology will add value. "I think that's one of the biggest challenges for the maritime industry is to appreciate and understand that there is great justification for change and that there will be great benefit in achieving that change and our goals, which is to provide for more secure port environments," he said.


  • Workforce
    White House rainbow light shutterstock ID : 1130423963 By zhephotography

    White House rolls out DEIA strategy

    On Tuesday, the Biden administration issued agencies a roadmap to guide their efforts to develop strategic plans for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA), as required under a as required under a June executive order.

  • Defense
    software (whiteMocca/

    Why DOD is so bad at buying software

    The Defense Department wants to acquire emerging technology faster and more efficiently. But will its latest attempts to streamline its processes be enough?

Stay Connected