Securing the Houston Ship Channel

How a unique public/private partnership, vision and technology came together


The Houston Ship Channel, located in Houston, Texas, is part of the Port of Houston—one of the United States’ busiest seaports. As the world’s 10th largest seaport, Houston handles more foreign waterborne tonnage than any other U.S. port. When it comes to securing the Ship Channel, the stakes are high. The Houston Ship Channel is a vital national asset. The Houston Ship Channel region includes 40 percent of U.S. chemical refining capacity and 14 percent of U.S. crude refining capacity, including a significant amount of U.S. jet fuel capacity. It’s also home to the world’s second largest petrochemical complex. It’s estimated that the Ship Channel region generates approximately $120 billion annually in direct and indirect impact on the Texas economy. A shutdown of the refining and chemical industry in this region would impact the nation, region, state and local economies.

Over 150 private industrial (refining, chemical and distribution) companies operate within the confines of the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel. Many of these companies are also part of the Houston Ship Channel Security District (HSCSD), a unique public-private partnership whose mission is to improve security and safety for the facilities, employees and communities within and surrounding the Houston Ship Channel. The Port of Houston Authority and Harris County are also members of the HSCSD. Originally conceived by local industry and government following the Sept. 11th attacks, the HSCSD was established as a result of Texas state law (House Bill 3011). The unique partnership enables HSCSD members to collectively invest in the infrastructure and resources necessary to secure the Ship Channel’s extensive waterside and landside facilities, supply chain and industries. HSCSD security initiatives are funded through a combination of federal grants and member assessments.

Responsibility for day-to-day monitoring of Ship Channel security cameras falls on the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. A 24/7 monitoring center operated by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (called the Security Monitoring and Assessment Group, or SMAG) is the focal point for threat assessment and response. While the SMAG has general security oversight, the Harris County Information Technology Center’s mission is to vet and implement technology that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s SMAG needs to fulfill its security role. John Chaney, Mobility Architect with the Harris County Information Technology Center, leads this effort. Under his guidance, Harris County was one of the first counties in the nation to deploy LTE broadband.

Now, through the collaborative efforts of the Harris County Information Technology Center, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, the Houston Ship Channel Security District, and NICE Systems, the entities have brought their collective resources and technology together to help Harris County and the HSCSD achieve a well-coordinated, system-wide approach to security that’s unprecedented in the industry. The project is a perfect example of how multiple public and private entities can come together to achieve impressive results through shared vision, collaboration, and technology.

At the heart of the successful collaboration is the NICE Situator PSIM solution. Through its deployment of Situator, the SMAG has been able to achieve greater situational awareness, improved coordination with federal, state and local agencies, and streamlined incident response.

“We view PSIM as essential to our core mission of securing the Houston Ship Channel. It has helped us achieve greater situational awareness, improve collaboration and information sharing across response teams, and automate our various processes and responses to events,” said Lieutenant Godfrey T. Eta, Harris County Sheriff’s Office. ”It’s a paradigm change in the way we manage safety and security at the Ship Channel.”

 

Integrating stovepipes of information for better situational awareness

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