Long Beach, Calif., Port Director Gives Thoughts on Security

Since 1997, Richard Steinke has led the Port of Long Beach, the nation's second-busiest seaport. The Colorado native joined the port in 1990, arriving as director of properties before becoming deputy executive director to Steve Dillenbeck in 1995. He succeeded Dillenbeck as executive director two years later and has overseen an unprecedented rise in cargo volumes.

Reporter Eric Johnson spoke Oct. 8 with Steinke about issues facing the busy seaport. The following is an excerpt of his discussion about port security:

Q: How safe are the ports right now?

A: The ports are a lot safer than they were pre-9/11. U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Port of Long Beach and the city of Long Beach have all stepped up and implemented procedures to tighten the supply chain and make sure ports are much more secure than they were. It's an evolving situation.

We're safer now, and I think we'll be safer in the future. We're putting in surveillance cameras. We've gotten grants from the federal government to tighten security. We've got an agreement with Long Beach Police for additional land patrols and water patrols. There will be radiation detection monitors at all container terminals shortly after the first of the year. As programs are implemented, I think you'll see a much safer port.

Q: Do the ports get enough Department of Homeland Security funding?

A: No. It's something that not only the Port of Long Beach, but all the ports in the United States have been clamoring for more money. The responsibility to secure our ports we take very seriously. The money has been scarce as far as grants. The last round of grants, there were 625 applicants for $50 million.

That's probably $700 or $800 million worth of requests for $50 million. Airports have fared much better than seaports. We need to find a better way to provide security money for seaports. I shouldn't have to compete with the Port of Los Angeles for something as serious as grant money for security.

Q: If money was no object, what would it take to make the ports as safe as possible?

A: Really, the key to seaport security, in terms of potential threats, is pushing the borders back. If money was no object, you'd look at the U.S. Customs being able to employ hundreds or thousands of people in foreign ports to make sure that as that cargo starts heading for the United States, that it was all physically checked and made sure it was all safe. They do have profiling systems and a lot of intelligence that are looking at information on every container that comes here, but they aren't physically inspecting it all.