Grand Haven Port Bids for High-Tech Security and Surveillance

Grand Haven is leading the charge of West Michigan's port communities seeking federal assistance to install high-tech security cameras for surveillance and intelligence gathering, part of a Homeland Security program.

The city has prepared a grant application that, if approved, would lead to five miles of high-speed fiber optic lines being installed from the south pier to the highway drawbridge for 360-degree video surveillance cameras.

The six cameras would be connected to recording devices at the Central Dispatch center in downtown Grand Haven.

Muskegon Police Chief Tony Kleibecker said his department will look into applying for the grant through the Homeland Security Department's Maritime Domain Awareness Program.

The Grand Haven City Council recently approved City Manager Patrick McGinnis' request to apply for a $141,000 grant that would build on a project spearheaded by a local safety awareness group.

The Beach and Pier Safety Task Force in Grand Haven has raised money to install a security camera on the south pier and alarms for 15 life rings there.

The Homeland Security grant would build upon that project by stretching high-speed cable lines and cameras down the waterfront to the bridge over U.S. 31.

"At certain times during the summer, the population density along our waterfront is probably the highest in West Michigan," McGinnis said. "People like to think of Grand Haven as a small, sleepy town, but in the summer peak time we're as busy as anywhere, and our public safety officials are called upon to look after everyone.

"Being able to monitor what's going on is a critical thing from a homeland security prospective," McGinnis said. "To have this federal help is important to us."

McGinnis said the cameras are not a case of "Big Brother" invading the privacy of beach-goers. It's a matter of keeping the people safe.

"If you go anywhere these days where there is a large crowd, there are cameras all over the place," McGinnis said. "It's an accepted part of our society. We understand that there's a need to have the authorities keep an eye on things."

The fiber optic lines cost $30,000 a mile to install, said Lt. Mark Reiss of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. The cameras would be placed on utility poles, officials said.

The high-resolution cameras can pan 360 degrees automatically or be controlled manually. Officials would be able to monitor severe storms coming off the lake for boater safety and watch Dewey Hill during fireworks displays.

The city has $103,000 for the cable lines, one camera and several life rings on the pier. That equipment could be installed by Memorial Day, Reiss said.

The city expects to know by June whether the grant for the rest of the project has been approved. If it is, the equipment will be installed this year. An exact timeline is not known.

City officials are hopeful the grant will come their way. But they realize it's a competitive process.

"We've talked about better surveillance of our commercial port for a long time," McGinnis said. "We have international traffic here. This would give us a good record of exactly who, what, where and when things happen."

Where would they be?

Key areas the cameras would cover include:

- The piers.

- The state park.

- The boardwalk.

- The Grand Haven Board of Light and Power's coal generating plant.

- Bicentennial Park where cruise ships visit.

- The aggregate docks on the north shore.

- The drawbridge.