By  on September 27, 2005

NEW YORK — The world's port officials have devoted the bulk of their resources to implementing and updating security measures at their facilities since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Four years later, with the effects of a natural disaster on the Gulf Coast fresh in their minds, developing systems that will ensure rapid response and recovery from an event has moved to the fore.

Speakers at the fourth annual Maritime Security Expo and Conference, which ran here from Sept. 20-21, said ensuring response and recovery will depend on ports looking beyond their new fence lines and engaging local, state, federal and even academic institutions.

"What we saw on 9/11 was our own infrastructure used against us," said James Woolsey, a vice president with global security consultant Booz Allen Hamilton and the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995, during remarks to open the conference.

"In a sense, what is pending off our shores is the type of warfare at seas and at our ports that relies on suicide," said Woolsey, comparing the situation to a street fight rather than a traditional military engagement. "We are no longer in the business of opposing enemy battle fleets."

Admiral Thomas Collins, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, stressed the need for improving what has been dubbed maritime domain awareness or knowledge of how global maritime activities could impact the U.S.

"We must have joint plans for prevention and response," said Collins, who views maritime domain awareness as one of the most critical elements to improving homeland security. "Quite frankly, we have considerable gaps in this area."

Collins pointed to the disjointed response by local, state and federal agencies to Hurricane Katrina as a glaring example for the need for better communication on all levels.

"Fragmented, stand-alone efforts make us neither safe nor protected," he said.

George Cummings, director of homeland security for the Port of Los Angeles, said the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been working with California's academic institutions, which have been involved in larger studies of homeland security. As the nation's largest port facility, Cummings said there was an acknowledgement that systems would need to be in place to evacuate not only the port, but the large residential areas adjacent to it."Port and residential evacuation is going to be an issue for us," said Cummings.

Brooks Royster, port director for the Maryland Port Administration, said thinking beyond facility borders is new territory for most ports.

"Ports in the past have had a tendency to be insular and distanced from the communities they serve," said Royster.

The disconnect was made readily apparent when conducting joint emergency response drills with local organizations. When reviewing plans, Royster said it became apparent that half of the local agents didn't understand much of what was being discussed in terms of how the port operates.

"In any incident, local agencies will be the first responders," Royster said. "We must learn how to communicate with nonmaritime agencies."

European ports have been faced with a lack of universal security standards, as well as determining who picks up the tab for implementing new security measures.

Jan Verbist, chief harbor master for the port of Antwerp, said universal regulations for all port facilities quickly became problematic.

"In the beginning, we made the rules the same and some ports started to complain," said Verbist.

The problem, he said, was there was no acknowledgement that it was far less likely for weapons of mass destruction to be hidden in a coal barge than a container.

The scope of the Antwerp port system is also a challenge for Verbist, who, like virtually all those in a port management role around the world, had no previous security training According to Verbist, the port of Antwerp has 100 terminals, with 16,000 ships passing through each year. About 60,000 barges are loaded and unloaded, while another 60,000 pass by without stopping.

Verbist said he spent much of his time worrying over the two safety drills a week he needed to carry out in order to review each of the facilities.

"This is the major problem," said Verbist at the conclusion of his remarks, flashing a slide of a dollar sign on the conference room screen.

Diego Teurelincx, secretary general of the Federation of European Private Port Operators and a representative of the European Maritime Agents, pointed out that 20 of the 25 European Union countries are maritime states. However, funding for port security is up to the individual nations. Some depend on government funding, while others rely entirely on funding from private port facilities.No EU entity has been charged with authority over port security issues, said Teurelincx, leading to issues as basic as how high fences around port facilities should be. Adding security elements such as radiation-detection stations requires additional space, which is hard to come by in existing facilities, said Teurelincx.

There is an added cost to implementing the systems and redesigning how containers flow through port facilities. Despite the cost, Teurelincx said port operators realize the benefits are obvious.

"You have to foresee that a truck with dangerous cargo can be taken back from the facility before it reaches the other containers," he added.

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