Two congressional representatives on Thursday praised recent security upgrades at the Port of Oakland while warning that Washington needs to cough up more money to guard against terrorist attacks at the nation's leading shipping docks.
"We have to invest more in ports like Oakland," said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, who was invited to tour the port by East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee. "To inspect all the cargo in a reasonable amount of time, to vet the crews of the ships and be able to respond if, in fact, we do identify something, we need more technology and we need more manpower."
Lee and Thompson met with the Coast Guard and other agencies that act as first responders in disaster situations to hear their most pressing needs and learn about innovations used here that could be replicated at other key coastal entry points.
Lee, standing by towering radiation detectors used to scan trucks at the Transpacific Container Company, said she was impressed by the massive, multi-agency effort to secure the country's fourth largest container port.
"I am proud that the Port of Oakland is the first in the country to screen all international containers for nuclear materials," Lee said. "But we need to act to make sure that the nation's other ports can offer this sort of security soon."
Port officials were pleased by pledges of support from Lee and Thompson as the port strains to meet post-Sept. 11, 2001, security mandates.
Ray Boyle, director of the port's maritime operations, said he is hopeful the port will see a surge of federal money next month, when a new round of Department of Homeland Security grants is to be announced.
Oakland is seeking about $6 million for measures to improve dockside security and to install surveillance systems to stop intrusions onto port property and better control trucker access.
Of the $80 million in Homeland Security requests made since 2002, the port has received about $8 million.
Thompson said he believes Congress and the Homeland Security department are committed to scrapping regional funding formulas and focusing more resources on areas of the country that are most vulnerable to attack.
According to Thompson, bustling hubs of commerce like the Oakland port need special attention. The port processes more than 2 million containers annually and has seen traffic surge nearly 20 percent over the past two years alone.
"Looking at the risk and vulnerability of the Oakland port, I think you can expect a significant increase in funding," he said.
[Editor's note: On Wednesday, July 27, California announced the news that it had received a $5 million grant to improve port security.]