Port Security: A Rush to Judgment over Dubai Ports World?

Last week it was announced that Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates would be acquiring and managing a total of six U.S. ports located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, Texas & Louisiana. Is Dubai World Ports' takeover of some terminal operations within six U.S. ports -- where they are mandated to comply with Maritime Transportation Security Act (MARSEC), the Container Security Initiative (CSI) as well as other U.S. Customs and Coast Guard programs -- a national security concern?

When the $6.8 billion deal was announced, it appeared anyone with the power to speak and access to a media outlet proclaimed that our national security was breached. The general presumption was that since they didn't know about the deal, and because the research and due diligence was conducted by the Cabinet Committee, we were all at risk.

With over 9 million containers shipped to the U.S. annually and less than 10 percent completely inspected, there are definitely security concerns. However, by knowing more about the programs in place, it is possible to add thoughtful, balanced exchange to this heated and emotional dialogue.

As a private security contractor, I consult, develop and implement government initiatives and laws regarding the security in the several ports across the U.S. Based on my experiences and knowledge of port security, the following are the government port security initiatives in place and the facts of the sale that have to be considered before anyone rushes to judgment:

First, Dubai Ports World is acquiring the operating and management rights of individual terminals within these ports and will not be running the entire port. Secondly, the government uses a layered approach to securing the ports. Many of these programs are still considered to be in their infancy and are a "work in progress." Security professionals need to consider this fact and use a level headed common sense approach to addressing the requirements of these programs knowing that as refinements occur the security program you designed to address these programs will have to be modified.

Some of the programs or laws that are currently used to protect our ports, that oversee Dubai Ports Worlds, include:

- Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MARSEC) - Container Security Initiative (CSI) - Customs - Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)

Once submitted/applied, U.S. Customs must verify the accuracy of the submission before the company can become a partner. U.S. Customs, by their own admission is very far behind in verifications (of over 5,500 submissions, only around 1100 verifications have been completed to date). Companies are frustrated with the delays but wait patiently because the U.S. Customs verification of their program ensures their company is placed in a "reduced" (container) inspection frequency, allowing them to get merchandise into production or on the shelves faster than the competition.

Nobody disputes that port security has improved since 2001. Importers are required to provide information on incoming shipments at least 24 hours before arrival; international agreements have been secured to increase inspection of US-bound goods on foreign soil and radiation detectors and X-ray machines have been introduced to most of our large ports.

Despite the improvement, only a small fraction of the 9 million containers that arrive in the U.S. each year are inspected. There are problems also with false alarms triggered by naturally occurring radiation, while more sinister material sheathed in lead could go unnoticed. By expediting and strengthening the administrative and management process with the programs we have in place, and encouraging the Department of Homeland Security to make port security a top priority, we will be thinking reasonably and strategically while acting globally.

About the Author: Scott R. Gane, CPP, is the Regional Vice President of Initial Security's East Central Region. Initial Security, www.initialsecurity.com, a leader in the North American physical security sector, provides security services through its network of over 60 U.S. and Canadian branch offices. At Initial Security, Gane has worked on a number of port security programs, and prior to his work with Initial Security, he held top-level security positions in the manufacturing and nuclear energy sectors. He can be reached at sgane@initialsecurity.com.