The Progress of Port Security

New federal regulations have whipped the port security industry into a flurry of spending and development.


Nearby, in Houston, BAE Systems received a $3.7 million contract (funded by the $75 million urban port security monies) to build a command center, linking together systems throughout the Port of Houston Authority. Houston is a vast port, active in bulk and container trades, with both public and private facilities. Its security assessment (funded by Round 1 grant money) cost approximately $300,000.

Cargo Management
Cargo screening and monitoring are also important facets of port security. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)—another DHS agency—has installed gamma ray imaging equipment at the larger terminals, with SAIC playing a leadership role.

At the Port of New York/New Jersey, the implementation of the Operation Safe Commerce program is aimed mainly at container shipping. ADT Security Services is playing a role as a part of a consortium that will offer capabilities similar to those of its Oakland implementation. An East Coast version of the SST project had looked at the container-tracking piece of this puzzle, using RFID technology on boxes brought in from Rotterdam/Antwerp.

The Port of New York/New Jersey also received an $850,000 grant from the TSA to help develop an acoustic technology originated by startup Greene Rees Technologies LLC. Similar to ultrasound, the technology is actually ultra-wide-band radar that will be used to develop signatures of cargo container contents in the East Coast hub. The backscatter analysis can be compared against a database of known material signatures, allowing personnel to identify container contents without disturbing the containers themselves.

Market Development
Port security is clearly moving in the direction of high-tech. The number of technology companies entering the maritime market can attest to that. Two vendors in particular—Ingersoll Rand Security and Safety Solutions and ObjectVideo—have been active in pursuing port security business throughout the country. IR Recognition Systems' HandReader products (which can capture information about the geometry of a person's hand and compare it against a database of templates to determine access authorization) have been gaining business in the airport sector. They have also been penetrating the access control market at port facilities.

ObjectVideo, with a strong track record in military sales, supercharges conventional video surveillance with computer vision, using artificial intelligence on a digitally enhanced video for detecting motion around the perimeter of a vessel. Rules-based alerts can also be created. ObjectVideo's Video Early Warning (VEW) system has been used by customs and border patrol to prevent intrusion at ports in Washingon State.

In 2003, as new regulations were promulgated, the Coast Guard estimated that an aggregate of $1 billion would be spent initially, and $500 million on a yearly basis, for facility security in the United States. The comments of the affected industry, prior to implementation, suggest that these numbers fall far short of true expenditures required. The correct number will never be known precisely. But, whatever it is, the protection of ports and waterfront facilities represents an important new revenue stream for the security industry.

Barry Parker is a New York-based consultant concentrating on maritime business and maritime security. His clients include financial institutions, cargo interests and shipowners. Working on behalf of a maritime client, he recently spearheaded a TSA-funded effort in which merchant vessels inbound to the Port of New York & New Jersey were tracked electronically using GPS technology. Mr. Parker can be reached at bdp1@conconnect.com.