U.S. Ports Tackle Security With Technology

RFID-based asset managment and radiation portals lead technology push at ports


More than four years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, officials are still trying to squash fears that the U.S. remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Last week's report that the U.S. Border Patrol discovered a 6-foot by 800-foot long tunnel connecting Tijuana, Mexico with a warehouse in San Diego, Calif.'s Otay Mesa industrial district isn't helping their cause.

Nevertheless, Richard Steinke, executive director for the Port of Long Beach on Friday addressed more than 200 attendees at a meeting hosted by the International Business Association (IBA) of Long Beach aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif. The State of the Ports Address focused on, in part, technological efforts to tighten security at Long Beach and Los Angeles ocean ports.

Among those technologies are radio frequency technology (RFID) to monitor truck traffic through terminals, biometric identification cards to authenticate employee access, and radiation portals to scan for hazardous materials in trucks and shipping containers.

Radiation portal monitors are being installed to look for "weapons of mass destruction and a variety of things that might be illegally carried into the United States," Steinke said. "We're having more than 100 devices installed at the two ports. All 13 container terminals and entrances or exits will have one."

Some radiation monitors have already been installed. Steinke said "they're like airport magnetometers for trucks." A driver pulls the truck into the portal monitor; if radiation is detected, a buzzer beeps.

"I've driven by the port of Los Angeles and I can't imagine the whole thing is being watched for nuclear weapons," said Alex Lightman, chief executive officer and president of IPv6 Summit Inc. Lightman didn't attend the IBA meeting, but believes features in Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6) could help to secure the ports. "I'd like to have an IPv6-connected sensor network to every possible point of entry into the country to sense radiation and more complicated sensors for biological and chemical weapons."

The ports -- Long Beach and Los Angeles -- estimate traffic will increase this year. By 2020, cargo demand should reach 36.1 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), or containers, up from 14.2 million TEUs in 2005, according to Steinke. Growth estimates are based on forecasts for consumer goods.

Operation Safe Commerce is another ocean port project developed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The aim is to test the reliability and maturity of advanced security-related platforms for ocean cargo shipments. They include non-intrusion detection systems, such as gamma ray photographs of container contents, active RFID that requires a battery source to transmit the signal, electronic container seals, IT systems and networks, and software.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds and organizes these projects. Seattle-Tacoma, Los Angeles-Long Beach and New York-New Jersey are the three major ports in the United States involved in the project.

The first and second phases of Operation Safe Commerce, completed in early 2005, involves approximately eight trade-lane projects for container shipments originating from ports in Asia, South America, and Europe bound for the U.S.

Savi Technology Inc., a $90 million privately held company, participated in the project and is working with vessel operators to build an information network that can redirect cargo in route based on real-time data transmitted from RFID tags. Lani Fritts, chief operating officer at Savi Technology Inc.

Ship vessel operators use RFID to track cargo containers from China, India, and other ports into the United States. SaviTrak, an RFID-based service offered by Savi Technology, provides real-time information about location, status and security of cargo containers.

Biometrics was also tested. The program setup by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began in January 2005 and ended in June. Employees were issued federal government identification cards. Access to building required card and fingerprint readings. Steinke said the DHS is determining whether to install the technology permanently.

This content continues onto the next page...