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The Status of Port Security

According to the US Coast Guard there are over 360 commercial ports throughout the coastal regions of the United States, including the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Among those 360+ commercial ports are contained approximately 3,200 Cargo and Passenger Handling Facilities. 160 of those commercial ports fall under the jurisdiction of 126 separate public seaport agencies. On an annual basis, US ports and waterways handle over 2 billion tons of domestic import and export cargo and according to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the revenues from the port industry contribute over $729 billion to the country's GDP. The cruise industry is represented by 17 major cruise lines authorized to operate in American ports and move 9.7 million passengers, annually. According to the AAPA, in FY 2005 alone, over 23 million containers were moved through JUST the country's top five container ports.

As anyone can tell from just these few pieces of open source information easily extracted from multiple information sources, US ports are extremely complex and this makes the task of securing these facilities an enormously daunting task. So how do we do it? Whose responsibility is it? Although those are valid questions, they allude to a single scope answer. For example: Which "government" is responsible? Federal? State? And what about the private sector's responsibility? The answer to these questions is as simple to say as it is difficult to explain. In actuality, the responsibility falls on both the government's as well as industry's shoulders.


Let's take a look at what the Federal Government is doing to help protect our ports. In 2003, in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Federal Government initiated the US Department of Homeland Security(DHS) and charged the new Department with the security of our nation's borders. The four main Federal Agencies that are responsible for those missions were brought under the DHS umbrella. Those agencies were the US Coast Guard, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, US Customs Service, and the US Border Patrol. The US Coast Guard was brought into the Department with all of its original missions intact, while the remaining three were re-designed and eventually turned into the Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

The Federal Government has recognized that the privatized state port authorities are crucial to the security of these vital points of entry and in 2006, awarded over $168 million dollars in Homeland Security Grants to state port authorities to enhance their security protocols. Also, the Department of Homeland Security was vital in drafting the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, which has provided a standard for port facilities and shipping fleets to conform their security standards to.


The actions imposed on the maritime industry in response to the government's efforts to make our ports more secure have been met with varying degrees of acceptance. The major rebuke from the industry is the restriction of the flow of commerce within the ports. Here lies the universal and paradoxical relationship between that which is being protected and the level of protection being afforded. In other words, the amount of freedom of movement is inversely proportional to how much security is being provided.

Therefore, the maritime industry has sought to work with governmental leaders to develop plans and strategies to efficiently balance the flow of commerce with an acceptable modicum of security. One of the main initiatives born of the maritime industry in the quest to secure our ports has been the industry's willingness to communicate. In sharing vital security information with government officials, the industry provides decision makers with key intelligence needed to make sound security decisions. Members of the shipping and maritime industries have also joined together to internalize security responsibilities in order to reduce the financial and tactical burden imposed on the government for facility and ship protection. In conjunction with the International Maritime Organization and their 58 member nation composition, industry leaders developed the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code* which develops and identifies "Ship's Security Officers", "Facility Security Officers" and declares Ship and Facility Security Plans in order to meet national and international security norms.

People vs. Technology

Throughout the entire security industry, there is a major debate raging over the funding of security initiatives. Should the money be spent on increasing the number of security people, or should it be directed toward newer and more advanced security technology? The answer is BOTH. We must understand that technology is purely a tool for people to use so they can more effectively do their jobs. Having all of the technology in the world is useless without trained, competent people in place to utilize it. Personally, I am excited about the amazing new and emerging technologies available to help secure our nation's ports.

For example: As discussed earlier, communication is vital in order to make prudent security decisions. In that light, Harbour Mastery, Inc., a company out of Tampa, Florida, has developed a web-based communications software that links vital information needed by port security personnel, as well as port operations personnel in order to efficiently coordinate a ship's needs. The amazing part is that the information is delivered before the ship even leaves the foreign port! It is being compared to a "Maritime FAA."


Needless to say, the security of our ports is a very fluid process. Great strides have been made by both the government and private industry in order to make our ports the safest they have ever been. Unfortunately, that does not mean they are safe. One of the biggest mistakes an industry or a society can do is enact security measures that meet a particular regulation and then never address the issue again. Without a constant and ongoing analysis and testing of those security protocols, as well as constant analysis of terror trends, security protocols in ANY industry will quickly become outdated and ineffective. However, with the great strides from government, the maritime industry and security leaders, as well as, the development of revolutionary technologies, the security status of our ports will only continue to improve.

*Note: You can find out more information about the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code by doing a search for "ISPS FAQ" on the IMO's website.

Micah W. Hoevelman is a contributor to PlanetData, and the founder and president of Global Protection Group, Inc.
USCG Maritime Security (MARSEC) Level:
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