Keeping the ports safe

"The U.S. transportation system is vast and, in an open society, impossible to secure completely against terrorist attacks," notes the 9/11 Commission's report. Despite that challenge, "We continue to make progress every day," says Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary, Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov).

Hutchinson's comments on the Commission report are an interesting contrast with the tone of a panel discussion on port security he participated in at the National-Press Club in Washington, D.C. "It is no secret that [ports] are vulnerable to both physical and cyber attacks ," points out John McCarthy, director of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Program at George Mason University School of Law (www.gmu.edu).

Hutchinson agrees, noting that U.S. ports have been built for 300 years without security in mind. "We do not replace that type of thinking overnight," he comments.

Following the July 1 implementation of the U.N. International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code and security measures contained in the U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act, the public should expect to see increased law enforcement presence at the ports, more availability of canine teams and more ID checks, Hutchinson says. While not as visible, surveillance cameras and background checks will also become more prevalent, while security is tightened in areas that ought to be protected. Hutchinson also says many international ports are not in compliance with UN port security code, and U.S. officials will be asking questionslike, "Did this container go through a port that not in compliance?" That's a good reason enhance inspection criteria for that container, ship, or crew, he observes. "I believe we have the systems in place. It's our job to make those systems work.

Rear Admiral Larry Hereth, director of port security, U.S. Coast Guard (www.uscg.mil), agrees that a ship from a non-compliant country or port should be given additional scrutiny. "This is the first time a security code will be imposed across the entire U.S., and, indeed, the entire world, changing the nature of how shipping occurs and providing a much more secure environment for shipping, the ships and the port facilities they are served by," he says.

The Port of Baltimore, for instance, has already gone from inspecting 2% of containers to inspecting 10%.

In the event of a major terrorist attack centered on a port facility, Jim Wyatt, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration (www.marylandports.com), believes that individual decisions would need to be made regarding whether to ground all aircraft or close all seaports. "Do we shut down our economic system? " Wyatt asks rhetorically. "We learned that we can't do that."

The question we need to be asking instead is: Do we have a system in place that allows us to effectively seal off the damage to ports that have been attacked while letting the rest of the system continue to function?

Increased security is a notoriously underfunded requirement for the logistics industry. Ports reportedly receive five cents for every dollar of security grants in the air transport sector. Though airlines and airports are also funding security initiatives, it's clear there is a requirement for more private sector funding for maritime security.

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