Starting From Scratch for Security at North Carolina Ports

Port of Wilmington, N.C., uses video for perimeter security system, pulls together smart card access with biometrics


In 2002, security at the Port of Wilmington, N.C., consisted of some hard-working guards and dated fencing. Today, the port, along with its sister facility, the Port of Morehead City, uses some of the most sophisticated security technology available in ways few other facilities have attempted.

Wake Up Call for Wilmington

From its home on the east bank of Cape Fear River, the Port of Wilmington ships millions of tons of bulk, breakbulk and container cargo each year, as does its twin in Morehead City. After Sept. 11, 2001, the ports immediately began examining their security posture, as did so many U.S. facilities. The North Carolina Ports Authority, which runs both ports, had a hunch that the then-current level of security just wouldn't be adequate to address the new threat of terrorism.

So in 2002, with the first of many grants, they contracted C.H. Guernsey & Company to perform a vulnerability assessment. In 2003, Guernsey, with local engineers Steuer & Associates and Moffatt & Nichol, went on to design an expansive new security program for the ports, funded by federal grants.

A Tall Order

The new design required new lighting, fencing, smart card access control with biometrics, surveillance with intelligent video, thermal cameras, and mobile command centers, among other elements. Johnson Controls won the bid to become the project's general contractor.

"Johnson Controls, through their partnerships with folks like (intelligent video provider) Guardian Solutions and some of the local contractors, felt we were well positioned to take this on as a general construction project as opposed to a typical project where we would bid out the security portion alone and take care of the cameras and maybe some of the fencing and things like that," said Chris Abts, major projects account executive of Fire & Security Systems with Johnson Controls. "We felt we were in a better position to really run it from a technology perspective and make sure that all of the elements came together at the right time to make it work."

Starting with a Clean Slate

The biggest benefit of having limited security technology in place is that when you decide to upgrade, you can start with a clean slate. "After hearing some of the stories from other ports around the country, we believed we were real fortunate having nothing to start with. It allowed us to come in with a brand new system and not have to match something new with something old," said Doug Campen, NC State Ports Authority's chief of police.

Still, the project was a challenging full-time job for Guernsey Senior Security Project Manager Jeff Marlow.

"When we went around and looked at the properties, there was very little electronic security in place," said Marlow. "We knew the waterside was a major vulnerability. One challenge was, how do you develop a perimeter around a waterside? That led us to the technology of the virtual perimeter using CCTV. The other challenge was that there were multiple entry points to the port, so how could we put in something that works with the volume of truck traffic and vehicular traffic, and that can easily use the TWIC standards as they develop?"

An Intelligence-Only Perimeter

Several other ports had moved to using intelligent video to secure the waterside, creating a virtual perimeter that would alarm when unusual motion was detected. Marlow and the Guernsey team decided this would be a good option for Wilmington as well. They contacted three notable intelligent video providers, and Guardian Solutions won the bid.

"We wanted to have something that had already been somewhat tried and true in the marine industry," said Marlow, "although it's important to note that we're going the virtual perimeter probably a little differently than most ports. We're doing the whole virtual perimeter around even the land side, around the fence, everything. So instead of having fence intrusion detection, we're using virtual perimeter around the fencing as well as in the berth areas and water where we can't put fencing."

This content continues onto the next page...