Starting From Scratch for Security at North Carolina Ports

Aug. 1, 2006
Port of Wilmington, N.C., uses video for perimeter security system, pulls together smart card access with biometrics

In 2002, security at the Port of Wilmington, N.C., consisted of some hard-working guards and dated fencing. Today, the port, along with its sister facility, the Port of Morehead City, uses some of the most sophisticated security technology available in ways few other facilities have attempted.

Wake Up Call for Wilmington

From its home on the east bank of Cape Fear River, the Port of Wilmington ships millions of tons of bulk, breakbulk and container cargo each year, as does its twin in Morehead City. After Sept. 11, 2001, the ports immediately began examining their security posture, as did so many U.S. facilities. The North Carolina Ports Authority, which runs both ports, had a hunch that the then-current level of security just wouldn't be adequate to address the new threat of terrorism.

So in 2002, with the first of many grants, they contracted C.H. Guernsey & Company to perform a vulnerability assessment. In 2003, Guernsey, with local engineers Steuer & Associates and Moffatt & Nichol, went on to design an expansive new security program for the ports, funded by federal grants.

A Tall Order

The new design required new lighting, fencing, smart card access control with biometrics, surveillance with intelligent video, thermal cameras, and mobile command centers, among other elements. Johnson Controls won the bid to become the project's general contractor.

"Johnson Controls, through their partnerships with folks like (intelligent video provider) Guardian Solutions and some of the local contractors, felt we were well positioned to take this on as a general construction project as opposed to a typical project where we would bid out the security portion alone and take care of the cameras and maybe some of the fencing and things like that," said Chris Abts, major projects account executive of Fire & Security Systems with Johnson Controls. "We felt we were in a better position to really run it from a technology perspective and make sure that all of the elements came together at the right time to make it work."

Starting with a Clean Slate

The biggest benefit of having limited security technology in place is that when you decide to upgrade, you can start with a clean slate. "After hearing some of the stories from other ports around the country, we believed we were real fortunate having nothing to start with. It allowed us to come in with a brand new system and not have to match something new with something old," said Doug Campen, NC State Ports Authority's chief of police.

Still, the project was a challenging full-time job for Guernsey Senior Security Project Manager Jeff Marlow.

"When we went around and looked at the properties, there was very little electronic security in place," said Marlow. "We knew the waterside was a major vulnerability. One challenge was, how do you develop a perimeter around a waterside? That led us to the technology of the virtual perimeter using CCTV. The other challenge was that there were multiple entry points to the port, so how could we put in something that works with the volume of truck traffic and vehicular traffic, and that can easily use the TWIC standards as they develop?"

An Intelligence-Only Perimeter

Several other ports had moved to using intelligent video to secure the waterside, creating a virtual perimeter that would alarm when unusual motion was detected. Marlow and the Guernsey team decided this would be a good option for Wilmington as well. They contacted three notable intelligent video providers, and Guardian Solutions won the bid.

"We wanted to have something that had already been somewhat tried and true in the marine industry," said Marlow, "although it's important to note that we're going the virtual perimeter probably a little differently than most ports. We're doing the whole virtual perimeter around even the land side, around the fence, everything. So instead of having fence intrusion detection, we're using virtual perimeter around the fencing as well as in the berth areas and water where we can't put fencing."

The owner had considered combining the virtual perimeter technology with fence sensors or vibration detectors, but they decided they'd prefer to have a single technology running consistently over the entire perimeter. Marlow said the owner also liked the idea of a movable perimeter. "Cameras are pretty flexible because you can move them and change them, whereas a hard-line system is a little more difficult to change. So I think it gave them more flexibility for the future," he said.

"This technology is new for the designer, it's new for the contractor, and I think all three of us were in a learning curve. I'd seen this product work, I'd seen the demos, but until you get it in your hands and start working with it there's a lot to learn. There's a lot of tweaking and tuning you have to do to this technology, but once it's in place, I don't think there's anything to beat it at this point," added Campen.

Working With an Emerging Standard

One of the biggest access control challenges for this installation was dealing with the emerging Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) standard, with which the port will have to comply once it reaches its final form. The problem is, the standard is still in flux, and no one knows exactly what that final form will look like.

"Every month they say, we're close to finalizing it, and I've heard that for a year and a half now," said Marlow. "I've even gone to the TWIC committee in DC and sat in on some of their meetings, participated in group discussions, and it's like they can't quite get to the point of finishing it. It's just frustrating. So we took the stance, let's determine at a 10,000-foot view, what would be the most flexible approach to this so we can capture the direction we think they're going, and give the port the ability to have this technology so they don't have to go back and reinvent the wheel or make a major investment to bring it up to TWIC standards later."

The project ended up specifying a combination of HID and Bioscrypt readers, with HID iClass cards. This combination can provide two-level authentication-biometric and proximity-that should put the port on the right road to future TWIC compliance.

Beyond TWIC, the specification required fault-tolerant servers, which led Guernsey to Johnson Controls' CardKey P2000. "It's got four processors, four hard drives, it's a 99.9 percent uptime machine," said Abts. "We looked at another system for using it with that type of a setup, and the only way they could do it was with two machines running in parallel and then having to bridge between a master server. Our system had been tested with this fault-tolerant setup, which is fairly unique. It's enterprise in that there's a master server and regional servers, but the regional servers are fault tolerant."

Mirrored Ports

While all these changes were happening in Wilmington, a very similar system was being implemented about 100 miles northeast at the Port of Morehead City, Wilmington's sister facility, and the goal of the project was to connect the two together.

Marlow explained, "They're connected via a T1 network. We designed the system so they could monitor and control everything from either port. So if they have a hurricane or a disaster, they could basically shut one port down from a security technology standpoint and monitor everything at the other port."

"We've got two control rooms, we've got a single enterprise access control system that mirrors info from one location to the next, so they can use a card at either place," said Abts. "And in addition, we installed a wireless network out on the berthing area, and we have what amounts to a mobile command unit. Anywhere in this wireless network area they can have this mobile command unit and have full access to everything that's on the network -- video, access control, and visitor management. So for people who come off a ship, they can issue them a badge right there before they even leave the dockside," he continued.

A Welcome Solution

You might think that the security officers at the ports would be overwhelmed with all this technology. After all, they moved pretty quickly from little more than foot patrols to intelligent video and mobile command. But Campen proudly relates that his staff was mostly positive about the changes, and anxious to learn.

"I think anytime there's change, you're going to have just a few employees that are a little skeptical. We're all that way-the older we get, the less we want change. But overall they see the true benefit and the positives that come out of this technology and how it will assist them in doing their jobs," he said.

"Doug's done a great job and his team has been great to work with," added Marlow. "They've just been saturating themselves in this technology and learning it, experimenting with it-and that's what it takes. Doug has already had a couple of opportunities to show his system off. He's at Law Enforcement Day with local law enforcement, chiefs of police and sheriffs. And when you walk into a surveillance room and you see a big 50-inch plasma monitor with your whole perimeter on there, and you've got six other monitors around you and racks of equipment humming, and then you pull up the trailer outside and you've got all this technology in the trailer, it's really impressive. It really is."

System Components
Virtual perimeter and intelligent video: Guardian Solutions
Cameras and DVRs: Pelco
Access control software: Johnson Controls
Gate operators: Hy-Security
Thermal imaging: Digital Infrared Imaging
Fiber Optics: AFI
Wireless: Smart Site
Optical turnstiles: Gunnebo Omega

About the author: Marleah Blades is managing editor of Security Technology & Design magazine.