Partners in Fighting Crime

U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) tours the GLPC-C4 Maritime Domain Awareness System. (Photo courtesy of Port Fourchon)

Port Fourchon’s Harbor Police and IT staff team up to enhance security and disaster response with the GLPC-C4 Maritime Domain Awareness System.

By Sarah Sain

More and more these days, port police are working hand in hand with a previously unlikely partner: the port’s IT department. As technology plays a larger role in fighting crime in general, these two groups find themselves at the same table as port police utilize sophisticated surveillance and monitoring systems and IT staff take on a more active support role.

One port in particular – Port Fourchon in southern Louisiana – has shown how this teamwork can pay dividends when it comes to day-to-day security issues, as well as a large-scale disaster response.

Port Fourchon formed the Harbor Police in 1972, and the office originally comprised of just Chief Mac Picou. Some years later, he hired one officer to asset with patrols. Today, Harbor Police consists of 16 sworn officers under Harbor Police Chief Jon Callais who protect and serve the port’s interests and employees.

On any given day, Port Fourchon has more than 6,000 workers on land and services approximately 15,000 workers offshore. Its jurisdiction covers the lower part of Lafourche Parish with roughly 35,000 residences. Its size alone creates challenges for the force.

“Our biggest day to day challenge is patrolling the land and water in and around our port,” Callais said. “More than 250 facilities and nearly 300 vessels moving through Port Fourchon each day keep us very busy.”

Today, Harbor Police works closely with U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs & Border Protection. Regionally, it also works with Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Lafourche Parish Government, Louisiana State Police, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Harbor Police and USCG’s Area Maritime Security Group plan regular drills and exercises to train officers for a variety of crisis situations, and the force is all certified based on the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) requirements.

Callais said the port also stays up to date on the latest law enforcement technologies and tools, which can help the officers do their jobs more effectively. Many of those tools, including Automatic Identification Systems and radar systems, in-car video and computers, and 24/7 camera feeds, are available in large part because of the port’s IT department.

“Most of these technologies we didn’t have in the past,” Callais said. “We solve more crimes with cameras than with patrols these days. All of the intersections at the port have a 24/7 camera. We have a crash and the camera tells us the cause without interviewing witnesses. The camera doesn’t lie.”

In recent years, the departments have been collaborating on another project, the GLPC-C4 Maritime Domain Awareness System, which AAPA recently awarded its 2013 Information Technology Award. The four C’s stand for Command, Control, Communications and Collaboration – all essential functions of the system.

Harbor Police and the port’s IT department, along with Fire Central, Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Lafourche Parish Office of Emergency Management, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, all use the system to ensure decision-makers across agencies can be proactive in the case of a disaster or emergency.

“After 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the GLPC realized that it needed to bring security, emergency response and operations in to one common operating picture for greater situational awareness and interoperability with local, state and federal agencies, and so it went looking for command and control solutions to allow us to be more proactive than reactive,” said Port Fourchon’s Director of IT April Danos. “In that search, the GLPC latched onto the concept of Port Wide Maritime Domain Awareness, and from that, C4 was born.”

Launched in April 2010 and built in part with Port Security Grants, C4 is a tool that keeps the port’s law enforcement technologies and assets immediately accessible for quick reference. When an incident happens, a dispatcher or even an officer can click onto C4 to get vital information about the facility he or she is about to enter. For instance, if responding to a fire, C4 could warn the officer of any hazardous materials on site along with recommendations on how to respond.

The timing of the launch worked in the port’s favor, as it was able to use the system in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began in late April 2010 and lasted through the summer.

“When we had the spill, we had to set up instant command with all agencies – not only local but state and federal in the same room,” Callais said. “At our morning command meetings, we’d bring up the system, and they’d pull it up where everyone could see it. We were instantly all on the same page. We started our day knowing what our plans were, knowing what had already happened, and what we needed to share to get to where we needed to be.”

Port Fourchon was at ground zero for clean up with the spill, so having the tool in place saved the port time and money. “Every morning we put up a report on how much oil was collected and boom was supplied. There were thousands of people working out of the port at the time, and we were able to keep everyone informed,” Callais continued.

Danos credits the port’s executive director, Chett Chiasson, for taking a chance on the untested system during such a high-profile disaster situation.

“The support he gave us at the time was great,” she said. “When we knew this was coming our way, we put it in action right away. And because of what we learned, it’s a better tool today than back then. When you consider that the BP incident was less than a month after C4’s launch, it definitely makes me feel that we are better prepared for major incidents in the entire port region because we have added additional data to the system, and through regular use we have all gotten more capable of utilizing its capability since 2010.”

From the overarching port security perspective, C4 is the ultimate toolkit for port security. Not only does it provide a one-stop shop for law enforcement and incident commanders to access all sources of data available, including CCTV, AIS vessel tracking, Doppler radar vessel tracking, map data and real-time law enforcement data, but it also offers a common platform for everyone from first responders on the ground up to incident commanders and state and federal officials to delve in to as much detail as needed in times of crisis to best deploy resources, manage incidents and work together in the one common operating picture no matter where they are.

In an emergency situation, such as a hurricane, oil spill or terrorist threat or attach, C4 enables the port to collaborate with parish and state officials and see real-time conditions and updates, which enables all parties to make quick decisions – which are not duplicated – on evacuations, closures and response.

On a day-to-day level, the C4 has a number of capabilities. When Harbor Police dispatchers receive an emergency call, they can pull up the location on camera feeds and get a visual on the facility or incident as they dispatch an ambulance. If a dock is damaged by a vessel, Harbor Police can replay the AIS and CCTV camera feeds via C4 and gather data about for their report. When port tenants call in a suspicious activity to Harbor Police, that call is mapped, investigated and resolved through C4’s common operating picture; the data is then saved and shared with regional response partners so that patterns and potential threats can be assessed.

The system itself is not web-based and is only shared through private networks, meaning it is more secure from a cybersecurity perspective.

“From the Harbor Police perspective,” Callais said, “having this toolkit available not just to us but to all of our regional response partners means that we are able to make decisions in real time with all of the necessary information to keep our people, our port, and the public safe from harm, no matter the hazard.”

In the future, both Callais and Danos see technology like C4 playing a larger role for police and security forces as the risk of large-scale natural disasters and other security threats increase.

“This technology not only brings disparate data sets, sensors and sources into one common platform and picture for Port Fourchon, but it allows us to share this data with local, federal and state agencies,” Danos said. “Can you imagine if the Coast Guard Captain of the port could have visibility into all of his/her port areas using one computer? We can.”

And Danos already sees a number of changes that will enhance the C4 in the months to come. The port plans to add more integrated cameras at the seaport, airport and floodgates. She is also working with the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, which has similar technology and visited the port in March, to see how they can better share info within their systems.