In Case of Emergency

Port of Houston Authority Emergency Manager Colin Rizzo reviews incident information that is being received by a PHA telecommunications officer. (Photo courtesy of PHA)

Port of Houston Authority Emergency Manager Colin Rizzo reviews incident information that is being received by a PHA telecommunications officer. (Photo courtesy of PHA)

Ports focus on disaster and continuity of operations planning in order to be prepared for the unexpected.

By Kathy A. Smith

When it comes to being prepared for an incident at any seaport, no matter the size or scope, comprehensive risk assessment, along with detailed planning, training and debriefing is critical. Planning involves the cooperation of a plethora of port personnel, as well as its area emergency responders and partner organizations.

Lessons learned from past incidents or those at other vulnerable entities, such as airports or schools, are invaluable when striving to prevent and respond to any kind of threat. Mobilizing the right team at the right time can make a huge difference in the prevention of loss of life and to reducing damage to systems and property. The overriding key is effective communication. Ports are working hard to continually update their response plans and work collaboratively for the best outcomes.

JAXPORT's Mobile Command Vehicle. (Photo courtesy of JAXPORT)

JAXPORT’s Mobile Command Vehicle. (Photo courtesy of JAXPORT)

Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP) is key to balancing the needs of all customers, says Charles White, director, port security and emergency preparedness for the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT). “We recognize that we cannot protect everything equally, so our planning and resourcing is, at the end of the day, based on the probability of an incident occurring, and the assumed consequences for that event.”

JAXPORT’s COOP is designed to allow JAXPORT to provide all essential functions for up to 30 days, even if that means moving essential personnel and functions to off-site work locations both short and long term. Offsite data storage is critical to relieving any potential downtime.

Breaking down those essential functions is a tedious but necessary task. “It has to be detailed by department, unit, individual, and be run with top-down guidance and support,” explains White. Beyond the 30-day period, JAXPORT transitions into a long-term recovery operation that is, in part, supported by the Northeast Florida Area Maritime Security Resumption of Trade Plan.

To further refine JAXPORT’s ability to manage critical incidents that could affect the Northeast Florida area, U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Jacksonville, Captain of the Port has developed a Port Coordination Team (PCT). The PCT consists of various stakeholders in the Maritime Transportation System that would function as a first line of communication to the Captain of the Port, providing status on the MTS, as well as advising the Captain on matters related to the incident.

Recently, JAXPORT ran a multi-agency exercise with a non-operating ship at one of the facility’s dockyards with a simulated fire in the engine room. Response teams practiced planned actions to deal with the fire while JAXPORT and partner organizations, including the vessel owner’s representatives, conducted notional planning on how to manage all other operations during similar critical incidents.

“The big take-away from this exercise was our ability to talk to everyone,” adds White. JAXPORT has worked to ensure that all partner organizations are using the same radio system to better streamline communication. The P25-compliant system, already used by the local police, was upgraded and customized under a Port Security Grant from FEMA, which White says has been paying off in huge dividends. The technology is also now in the hands of the port’s customers.
The area Maritime Security Plan provides for how local, state and federal stakeholders will operate under various conditions to include the possible closure of the channel. The JAXPORT Security Operations Center provides a single location to fuse voice, video and other supporting data into a 24/7 Watch Floor, and JAXPORT has also invested in a Mass Notification System that provides robust and redundant communications capability to all of the port’s stakeholders.

The addition of a Mobile Command Vehicle provides field response with interoperable communications with customers, as well as the local, state and federal agencies necessary to establish and maintain a unified command during emergency situations. “Although we cannot plan for every possible scenario, we can ensure we maintain a close working relationship with our customers, as well as local, state and federal partners, all supported by effective communication, training and exercises.”

A patrol vessel surveys Port Metro Vancouver's inner harbour. (Photo courtesy of Port Metro Vancouver)

A patrol vessel surveys Port Metro Vancouver’s inner harbour. (Photo courtesy of Port Metro Vancouver)

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) uses an all-hazards approach based on the Incident Command System (ICS). The port is closely connected to local and regional emergency response organizations both on and off the water, and it regularly meets with them to develop coordination plans and maintain strong relationships. At least once each year, the port also invites stakeholders to participate in either full-scale or tabletop exercises to validate these plans.

“We are not first responders,” says Chris Wellstood, director, marine operations and security, and harbour master. “We maintain situational awareness and have more of a coordinating role within our jurisdiction, working with the first responders, the community and the different stakeholders. We look at risks that face any of our port operations, as well as the port itself, and minimize these risks by means of risk prevention and mitigation measures. The residual risks form the basis for our preparedness, response and recovery plans.”

Multiple interoperable communication technologies are in place. Port Metro Vancouver’s Operations and Security Department deals with a variety of incidents on a regular basis. “Our Operations Centre is on task 24/7, 365 days a year, and monitors and maintains situational awareness within our jurisdiction by communicating with other agencies and by means of camera feeds and a fleet of patrol vessels, as well as security staff on the ground and in cars,” explains Wellstood.

Additionally, located in Port Metro Vancouver’s Operations Centre is an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) that is activated whenever a small or large scale incident occurs. If the Operations Centre and the EOC has to be moved due to a major disaster, one of the port’s patrol vessels can be utilized as a command post and mobile EOC, while other port vessels equipped with technology including side scan sonar and Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) cameras can support response operations and provide situational awareness to the mobile EOC.

Strong relationships with emergency response stakeholder groups are maintained through the Marine Emergency Response Coordination Committee (MERCC), which is co-chaired by Port Metro Vancouver and the Canadian Coast Guard. MERCC is made up of land- and marine-based emergency response agencies and more recently, private sector organizations and local government entities. Through this committee, PMV has access to an extensive network of marine assets that enables PMV to ensure adequate responses to a variety of marine events.

The Port of Houston Authority (PHA) also runs disaster drills on a regular basis. “Earlier this year, PHA ran a multi-prong exercise that simulated a disgruntled terminated employee who placed an explosive suspicious package (which exploded on scene) aboard a ship, while at the same time, emergency responders had to deal with a simulated oil spill,” says Colin Rizzo, emergency manager.“Once complete, the executed plan was reviewed for best practices.”

Houston’s Port Coordination Center is where the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and 24-hour dispatch are located, with numerous camera systems and personnel monitoring activities any hour of the day. Port of Houston also has its own sworn police officers, who handle regular law enforcement and homeland security duties, and an external private security company is contracted to guard the gates.

The EOC is activated from minor events to full scale closure and works according to MARSEC protocols. Additionally the EOC is utilized for severe weather events to monitor up-to-the-minute conditions. The Port of Houston coordinates with the Texas City, Freeport and Galveston Ports and the West Gulf Maritime Association for such tasks as coordinating the movement of vessels with towing companies during closures of the Houston Ship Channel. Oil refineries and terminals need to continue moving product even in the event of a closure, but as Rizzo says, a no-notice event can be hard to predict.

Unique to the Port of Houston is its own in-house fire-fighting team, which runs out of three stations, with three hazmat vehicles and two state-of-the-art fireboats (and another one under development), which have been paid for with $15 million federal grants. There are 46 firefighters who can handle both marine and land-based fire-fighting. The team also provides in-house hazardous material response. According to Rizzo, these are some of the highest trained firefighters in the state. “All our station captains are also ship captains and have hazardous materials response training,” he says.

When it comes to surveillance technology, Rizzo says it’s improving, but technology can’t be relied on. A back-up system is also critical. Last year, the Port of Houston performed an active shooter drill and took what they learned from recent school shootings and other agencies to make their plan. “We test our plans and procedures thoroughly,” says Rizzo. “You’ve got to plan, prepare, respond and mitigate.”

When a port community is ready to write or update their incident plans, they can turn to ABS Group (ABSG). Based in Houston, Texas, ABSG develops extensive port-wide strategic risk management and trade resumption/resiliency plans built on the company’s engineering-based and field-proven methods. “We assess where the greatest risk are, based on collective threats, vulnerabilities and consequences within the region,” says Charles Isetts, senior risk analyst.

While typical port emergency protocol standards apply, the plans are unique to the different port communities and are determined by their specific processes, priorities and capabilities. These plans emphasize port-wide partnerships, regional management of risk and business continuity/resumption of trade, prioritize port-wide strategies and actions, and provide a basis for aligning grant-funded projects. Risk data is collected from local stakeholders, models and pre-existing plans, such as the Maritime Security Assessment Model (MSRAM) and area contingency plans covering all-hazard threats (security, accidental and natural disaster).

The ability of a region to have adequate and sustainable capabilities is crucial. “Regardless of what causes an incident, the same responders will be involved, and they would need to rely on each other,” says Isetts. This means a coordinated approach based on the National Response Framework. All facilities, operations and supply chains within a port are scrutinized for risk and overall importance to the region, with no one facility receiving special focus unless it is deemed at higher risk.

According to Isetts, “Everyone involved needs to agree with the processes and priorities that go into developing a plan. How we continuously work together to plan, manage risk and better leverage each other’s capabilities is the strategy you have to have.”