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Keeping the Waterside Secure

Ports enhance their security capabilities through resource and information-sharing collaborations with government agencies and private organizations.

 * By Mary Lou Jay *

When it comes to waterside security at U.S. ports, small boats pose some of the biggest problems, according to Jeffrey Brown, senior vice president of critical infrastructure and public safety  at ARES Security (ASC). Suicide bombers, like those who attacked the USS Cole in Yemen in 2002, could drive the boats, loaded with explosives, into ships in the harbor. “Cruise ships and vessels carrying certain dangerous chemicals are our highest risk categories,” Brown said. Small vessels are also favored by smugglers trying to slip drugs, weapons, money or people into the country.

U.S. ports are using ship escorts, radar, sonar and camera monitoring systems to defend against these small boat threats and others that come over and under water. They enhance their security capabilities through resource and information-sharing collaborations with government agencies and private organizations.

“Before 9/11, a lot of companies and agencies worked in silos,” Brown said. But over the last 15 years, those walls have been broken down. “If you compare us to pre-9/11, we are making phenomenal strides in information sharing.”

One example is the Port of Texas City, which established an independent non-profit Port of Texas City Security Council in 2008. The council coordinates security efforts among 15 member companies and federal, state and local agencies operating in and around the port. The port relies on patrols, its own radar and camera systems and the members of its security council to monitor traffic and other activities on and under water.

When an unauthorized vessel comes into the port, which is a security zone, the port first calls the Coast Guard to intercept it. “In the meantime, we alert all of our port members, the security folks and all the port entities, and monitor the vessel,” said James Whitehead, director of security at the Texas City Security Council. For underwater threats, the port can call in regional assets like dive teams.

The Port of Texas City, which recently won the Coast Guard’s Bennis award for its overall security efforts, conducts drills and exercises with its security partners. Some are based on intrusions from land and other times on threats via the water.

“It’s a nice cooperative arrangement where we help each other and work together because we all have the same goal of keeping the area safe and secure. It works well,” Whitehead said.

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