Need for vigilance

Industry Database

A secure port is a good way to get more business, as Martin Rushmere explains

The bottom line is being weighed along with the need to prevent terrorism and criminal acts when ports look at gate security. These two themes underpin much of the debate and planning in the industry.

And the bottom line in turn is dependent on the volume of traffic with the big economies, with the US at the top. “One way to expand business is by investing in security and showing that you are better than the competitors,” says Mark Gittoes, principal risk consultant for BMT. “The big boys, notably the US, dictate the rules and if a port does not comply with their requirements, they are in danger of losing the business.”

For a big port, such as Valencia, the cost of installing radiation monitors can be relatively easily borne, but small ports might not find it worthwhile, he says. He has noticed underlying and understandable friction between the trade and the authorities over who should shoulder most of the cost.

For Mark Sisson, senior port planner with AECOM in the US, the end result is the same. “It’s always passed onto the end user, who is the customer.”


Who pays?

In talking to port officials on the other side of the Atlantic and in South East Asia, the 'pass the parcel down the line' process does not seem to be quite as clear cut. Port authorities and terminal operators are more willing to share the costs, if only because politicians are more likely to take action, whereas the private sector in the US has more control.

Then again, CAMCO’s Anton Bernaerd says,” Ninety-five percent of the systems we install are paid for by the terminal operator.” Adds Mr Sisson: “The overall capital cost of security is negligible in relation to the overall cost. The only big items are things like radiation portal monitors.”

There is complete agreement on the guiding principle of security – the more automation and remote operation the better, “People are the weakness,” says Mr Gittoes, “but there obviously sometimes have to be detailed checks, which mean drivers having to stop and get out of their cabs. At the same time there has to be a balance between security and hampering the port operations, otherwise people will throw their teddy bears out of the cot and take their business somewhere else.”

Mark Rogers, DP World’s global director of security, emphasises that traffic management must be watched continually so that it does not lead to “increased gate processing time that impacts the port’s operational workflows and in turn affects the commercial viability of port operations. This also can lead to circumvention of port security workflows and thereby a further increase in security risk.”

Mr Sisson is confident that the algorithms worked out to determine what gets inspected and when have proved effective. “They do a pretty good job and have been meticulously developed. They ensure that not only weapons and such like are found but also catch stowaways.”

Says DP World: “Security measures in most ports are based on two requirements: commercial and public (clients, stakeholders, visitors). More specific measures are linked to port security risk assessments based on numbers of security incidents linked to cargo crime, whereby it is difficult to implement a one-stop solution for gate security.”


Tackling contraband

Criminal activities are becoming of increasing concern. “Theft, fraud and counterfeit goods – China is the main culprit for counterfeiting - are the big thing”, says Mr Gittoes. “We are staying on top of the measures to combat extremist political and terrorist activities.”

Others in the industry are also worried about empty containers. There is a remarkable lack of interest throughout the rest of the industry in verifying that a box is truly empty, and security officials warn that this is where the biggest weakness lies. “The terminal operator could hardly care less," says one specialist, “while the customs department is not going to bother if the operator verifies it’s empty. More needs to be done to make sure the interior matches the manifest and that the manual/electronic lock was placed, first, by a reliable and competent employee and second, at a time when the box was definitely empty."

Says Mr Sisson, "More care needs to be taken.” Mr Gittoes is also blunt about the issue. “The trade often doesn’t know what is in the cargo and they don’t really care.”

RFID, optical character recognition and radiation monitors are the backbone of the technological measures. CAMCO’s range of sophisticated equipment is mostly used in ports where labour costs are high - but there is also more recognition among ports in developing countries, where labour is cheap, that they too can benefit. “Fraud is far better controlled," says Mr Bernaerd, "which leads to fewer insurance claims and less time spent on investigations and follow ups with customers. Automation is particularly important for outbound traffic. However, camera/OCR systems only make sense with terminals above 100,000 teu a year.”

He points out that a secondary benefit of OCR on cranes is in accurate tracking of containers, vehicle movements and all associated equipment. “An image is stored on the computer system and there is no need for an inspector to write down container numbers and related information.”


Joint attack

And no RFID system is the sole answer to security problems. “Passive and active tags both have their advantages – the batteries on active tags can fail, even though they last three to five years, which leaves you with a sudden problem. License plate recognition systems feature in here as well. But, no matter what type of tag system you have, you should also have a camera system. We always urge customers to use hybrid systems.”

For new projects, CAMCO is adamant that OCR and camera systems are needed. “Ten years ago they were seen as interesting things to have. For greenfield sites today, they are essential.”

DP World also uses intelligent video. “The systems can scan large numbers of containers night and day, and, by automatically detecting anomalous events in real-time, reduce the need to continually monitor videos of containers sitting in a warehouse or in a storage compound.” Guards are being equipped with handheld PDAs, ”giving more specific and measured data to the security guard force, along with the facility to communicate verbally at all levels within the layered security system".

One piece of equipment that security planners and advisers don’t need is a crystal ball. More automation and more advanced equipment will be the theme of the future, although a human element will probably always be involved.

“The less human element the better,” says Mr Sisson.“More and more information [should be] captured automatically. There are possibilities of scanning every container as they do in Hong Kong. It’s a relatively low energy, drive-through operation. It understands when the cab goes through and turns off.” He says that most gate improvements have been aimed at the everyday business activities “bringing the gates up to where the supermarkets were in the 1980s. Scanning everything and not using humans to type in numbers.”


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