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US Port Security In the Post-9/11 World

Aileen Torres-Bennett,
Managing Editor, Sea Technology

It has been more than a decade since the terrorist attacks that shocked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. In light of our themes for this month’s issue, which include ports and harbors and homeland security, we at Sea Technology ask: Where are we now as a nation in terms of port security?

“Every major commercial seaport before 9/11 was porous,” said Jay Grant, chief executive of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police, to the Los Angeles Times in an article that ran on the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. “They were vital engines of the U.S. economy, and few people were looking at security at all.”

After 9/11, the security situation did a 180. “Today, we’re not perfect, but someone is always watching. Someone is always paying attention,” said Grant.

In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. Coast Guard made it mandatory for cargo terminal operators to submit security programs as well as emergency plans for approval.

Identification of those passing through U.S. ports was tightened. Unlike before 9/11, port visitors must now show a valid driver’s license for an ID check. As for port-related employees, about 1.6 million truck drivers, longshore workers and others must now undergo background checks and obtain a Transportation Workers Identification Credential.

Screening of cargo containers has increased since 9/11, with radiation sensors now being used to check all cargo containers at the nation’s major ports. Environmental surveillance has been another area of major overhaul. For example, the Lost Angeles Port, which is among the busiest in the U.S., has installed 400 more cameras since 9/11 for a 360-degree field of view. The L.A. Port now has fixed and stationary cameras; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; and long-range infrared cameras.

In January 2014, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriation Act that funded several high-priority port security programs. The bill includes $600 million in funding for TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) discretionary grants, which is 20 percent more than last year’s $500 million appropriation.

The appropriations bill includes $5.5 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works programs, of which $1 billion is dedicated to navigation channel dredging operations and maintenance.

Furthermore, the bill calls for $100 million from FEMA’s state and local programs to go to the Port Security Grant Program. It also rejects the Barack Obama Administration’s proposal to bundle all state and local programs’ security grants and shift responsibility for determining grant allocations to the states. The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) strongly opposed the shift to state and local decision making for these grant allocations, arguing that federal-level decision making would be better for protecting the nation’s international transportation gateways.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service Operations, Research and Facilities appropriation is $471.9 million; 5 percent more than fiscal 2013. NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS), which provides environmental observations, forecasts and other data to improve the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce, received enough funding to maintain its share of program costs, but it gets no additional funding for fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance. Individual ports continue to pay for operations and upkeep of PORTS.

Given the added technology, manpower and funding for port security in the post-9/11 environment, the state of the nation’s ports looks pretty good. However, the threat of terrorist attacks will not be able to be eliminated completely. It is impossible to have a real-world, 100 percent secure scenario for all ports all the time. The AAPA continues to advocate for a separate port security funding program to help ports boost security infrastructure, technology and personnel. This would contribute to the heightened vigilance necessary to try to prevent attacks.

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