MCCs Keep Port Running in Case of Emergency

Eleven work stations make up the central part of the Georgia Ports Authority Mobile Command Center.  (GPA Photo/Stephen Morton)

Eleven work stations make up the central part of the Georgia Ports Authority Mobile Command Center. (GPA Photo/Stephen Morton)

Deployable units ensure port operations continue during times of disaster.

By Sarah Sain

Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Oil spills. Terrorist attacks. There are numerous reasons why a port may need to temporarily shut down operations – although, thankfully, those situations are usually rare.

However, there is always the chance that such an event could take place, which makes it imperative for ports to have a plan in place to ensure that data remains secure and port operations continue safely and as scheduled.

For more and more ports, mobile command centers – deployable units that enable a port to continue some or all operations, including communications, information technology and security – are becoming a key piece of technology in an effort to provide continued services during a disaster.

New Centers Unveiled

Earlier this year, the Port of Seattle received a new MCC to replace its older communications vehicle. Then in July, Georgia Ports Authority unveiled its new MCC that can manage all operations at the port as part of its hurricane preparedness plan.

“With our location on the East Coast, we know it is important to be prepared for storms that might affect our operation,” says GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz.

“Creating this MCC through a partnership with our Port Police and Information Technology teams is one way we can assure our business partners that their information is safe and their cargo will continue to move in the most efficient way possible immediately after – and sometimes even during – an emergency situation.”

The 53-foot center contains 11 computer workstations, along with cameras, radios, dispatch consoles and flat-screen televisions.

“Any port business can be conducted from one of these stations; whether it involves the movement of freight, or and administrative function such as finance or payroll. All systems are accessible through these work stations, says Bill Sutton, GPA’s director of information technology. The MCC cost more than $1.5 million and was paid for in part through port security grants funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Federal money covered 75 percent of the project, and the GPA invested 25 percent.

Seattle’s new MCC also includes state-of-the-art technology, including a touchscreen control panel, HDTV monitors and conference seating for six. The vehicle cost approximately $800,000 and was largely funded by a FEMA Port Security Grant.

“It also has the capability to serve as a 911 dispatch should we lose the ability to use our fixed site at the airport,” says Arif Ghouse, emergency manager at the Port of Seattle’s waterfront facilities.

Ready in all situations

Sutton says that GPA’s MCC can be deployed in all sorts of situations, from a

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full-out disaster the size of a hurricane to a smaller more centralized incident, such as a fire or chemical spill.

To date, the center has been used mostly in various tabletop scenarios and exercises, but it was also used on September 16 when Vice President Joe Biden visited the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Ocean Terminal. Sutton says that during the visit, the MCC served as the mobile ops command center for security coordination and support.

Sutton says it’s important for ports to look at new investments in technology such as MCCs in an effort to prepare for the worst.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict all of the issues that might negatively impact the operations of your facility,” he says. “We felt the MCC gave us the most flexibility to address the widest variety of potential business interruptions.”

Ghouse echoes those sentiments: “It all comes down to being better equipped to save lives, protect property and allow for business to continue at our facilities.”