Port of Long Beach goes high-tech for security

Feb. 12, 2009
Port's $21 million security facility a showcase for high-end surveillance, RFID

With a police helicopter flyby, the Port of Long Beach on Monday gave an airborne salute to the opening of a high-tech security facility designed to protect the second-largest U.S. seaport against terrorist attacks.

The $21 million, 25,000-square-foot facility will serve as the Los Angeles-area port's security division headquarters and coordinate communications among about 40 local, state and federal agencies that help secure the harbor complex.

"We have one of the most innovative security operations of any seaport in the U.S.," James Hankla, president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, told an audience of about 300. Attendees included Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, police officers, FBI representatives and Coast Guard officials.

The new facility utilizes some 400 video cameras to see, officials claim, every square foot of the harbor on land and sea. It's connected by a fiber-optic and wireless network. On a clear day, the military-grade video cameras can detect ships seven miles offshore, officials say. Some cameras are equipped with night-vision technology.

"If you wave at us from land or sea, we'll be able to wave back," Hankla said.

The port occupies 3,200 acres and accounts for 30,000 jobs in Long Beach and about 1.5 million jobs across the U.S. It handles about $100 billion in trade between the U.S. and Asia and other territories -- everything from clothing and household goods to petroleum, automobiles and construction materials. As measured by containers processed, Long Beach ranks No. 2 only to the Port of Los Angeles.

In 2008, the port handled about 6.5 million shipping containers, down 11% from 2007, reflecting the global economic recession.

According to Hankla, a shutdown of the harbor would cost the U.S. economy about $1 billion a day.

Security features at the new facility include facial recognition technology that can be used to help port authorities locate any persons of interest they think might be within the port.

Another security feature is the ability to control freeway signs to warn drivers to stay out of the area in the event of a major incident. Strategically placed motion-detection sensors can tell police officers to check out a disturbance.

The idea to bulk up the port's security surfaced soon after 9/11.

"We do have an enemy out there that wants to do us harm," U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Paul Wiedenhoeft said at the event.

The port also uses a fleet of remotely operated submersible video cameras that provide underwater surveillance. Each camera is about the size of a shoe box and weighs 8 pounds. The underwater camera systems are made by VideoRay, based in Phoenixville, Pa. The port also has a full-time staff of seven divers, soon to be 12, that will handle underwater inspections and small-scale salvage.

A radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tagging system is also being deployed to track cargo. As of Feb. 18, all trucks entering the Port of Long Beach will be required to have RFID tags, allowing port authorities to know who owns the truck and what cargo it carries.

The fiber-optic communications network cost $12.2 million, funded mainly through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The network was designed and installed by consulting and engineering firm Tetra Tech, based in Pasadena, Calif.

Other technology providers for port security include SSR Engineering, based in Anaheim, Calif., a provider of radar and camera surveillance systems.

About 125 people will work at the three-story command center, which includes a helipad. The facility will coordinate activities among the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security, the Long Beach Police Department and the Port Harbor Control.

The center includes a control room with a large computer screen that can post multiple images from surveillance and monitoring data throughout the port.

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