Port Security: Top Threats and Technology Trends

A look at reducing security risks at ports worldwide


- Crane-mounted sensors: The majority of the containers that come into the U.S. are trans-shipped. That is, a ship arrives in a port such as Rotterdam, and containers are off-loaded and put on a ship headed to the U.S. These containers do not pass through the gate of the port, and today, unless they are flagged by the manifest system as high risk, they are put on the ship and arrive at the U.S. port without inspection. One new technology to help address the inherent risks is a sensor that attaches to the end of the loading crane. Speed is important in crane operation, and this technology enables detection -- of radioactive or nuclear material, for example -- in a seamless manner. The crane picks up the container and if it detects a threat, it puts that container aside and picks up another. Loading continues uninterrupted while the security team inspects the suspect container. The effectiveness of this technology has been demonstrated, and it is gaining wider interest as a part of day-to-day operations at ports around the world.

- Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags: Whether the container is on a truck, train or ship, RFID tagging can help authorities identify the current location and the transit path of the container. If an RFID tag is applied as soon as the cargo is loaded, the container's position can be constantly updated. For example, if a ship deviates from its charted track, or there is movement of the container once aboard ship (containers are usually strapped in place until they are off-loaded), these anomalous events would be investigated immediately. Similar technology is used today in the U.S. trucking industry to indicate whether a driver is in transit or has pulled off for a rest stop, and this technology can have dramatic implications for verifying container security.

- Intelligent device management: In some high-end automobiles today, sensors united by intelligent device management can tell you whether tire pressure is low or an oil change is due. Intelligent devices with sensors on containers could indicate the presence of chemical and biological materials, the opening of a door, or the breaking of a container seal. Intelligent chips and device management architecture can enable authorities to monitor high volumes of "smart containers" from a central point and provide real-time alerts. This rapidly evolving technology offers powerful capabilities for detecting threats long before containers reach U.S. shores.

- Maritime domain awareness: Currently, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration monitors all U.S. air space and air traffic; however there has been no parallel program for the maritime domain. In 2005, the White House issued a document titled "Our Maritime Strategy," outlining a program for domain awareness of all ships approaching U.S. coasts. While maritime domain awareness is not a technology in itself, it is based on technologies working in unison. As government agencies work together toward funding and achieving this goal of monitoring sea traffic, technology investments will include an integrated coastal radar system that can also assimilate intelligence data. There is even the possibility of using surveillance devices such as unmanned air vehicles.

These technologies can begin to mitigate the risk of harm to our nation, and through the appropriate use of these new technologies and existing policies and programs, the U.S. can maintain the openness and speed of trade that have created opportunities and economic strength for this nation. Since U.S. security is so closely tied to security measures at ports around the globe, the issue of worldwide partnership is key. In maritime trade, as with air and ground transport, technologies that can help detect threats without slowing the movement of goods will help not only the U.S. economy but also the economies of our trading partners worldwide.

About the Author: David M. Stone, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (retired) is the Former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration. As Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration from December 2003 to his departure in June 2005, he led the effort to secure the U.S. transportation system from terrorist attacks while promoting growth and increased access. He is an acknowledged leader in transportation security having also served from 2002 to 2003 as the TSA's first Federal Security Director at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Admiral Stone is a 28-year career naval officer who served with great distinction in a variety of roles including as Commander of NATO's Standing Naval Force in the Mediterranean during operations in support of the Kosovo conflict. He also served as Commander of the Nimitiz Battlegroup/Cruiser Destroyer Group 5. He retired from active duty in April 2002. Admiral Stone serves on the Advisory Board of Vidient Systems, Inc. He is a 1974 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and holds post-graduate degrees from several institutions including the Naval War College.