How to protect your port’s hidden underwater perimeter



Ove Ronny Haraldsen & Steve Campbell, Kongsberg Mesotech, Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada


Lessons from the new multi-sensor installation at the Port of Long Beach

Night has fallen over the control centre of the Port of Long Beach (POLB), one of two harbors servicing the metropolis of Los Angeles and the entire country. A container ship fully loaded with clothes and electronics is coming alongside. As one of the most important gateways for trade between the U.S. and Asia, last year POLB handled more than 6.2 million containers. All movements at the port are closely monitored from the operation room, both over the water’s surface and, importantly, under the water.

Suddenly, a symbol appears on one of the many monitors. The advanced Kongsberg sonar security system has detected an object moving in a direct line and heading for the harbor basin. A yellow icon on the screen initially defines the object as unidentified. At the same time, powerful computers are working to interpret the signals reflected by the object. The operators watch closely – is there a foreign diver in the harbor, or is it just a harbor seal?

Security a top priority

The sonar program is the culmination of efforts that began before 9/11 and accelerated in 2005 when Long Beach received an initial US$3.8 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security for an underwater surveillance system with both fixed and mobile elements. The fixed system includes sonar heads installed at various choke points in the port. A key aspect of the system is the signal processing software that allows operators to determine whether the sonar is detecting divers, seals, sharks or swimmers. The result is that Long Beach now has one of the most advanced sonar surveillance systems in the world, and, given its emphasis on security, is now one of the most technologically advanced and secure ports in the world.

Securing business continuity

As the second-busiest port in the United States, it makes sense for Long Beach to maximize security of commerce and prevent interruptions. Combined with the Port of Los Angeles, the complex ranks as the sixth busiest in the world; officials have estimated the economy would lose about $1 billion a day if these two ports were shut down for any reason. Since the port is responsible for more than 1 million jobs across the country, any lengthy stoppage would also dramatically affect the rest of the nation’s economy.

Given the economic importance of this and many ports, in the event of a disaster it is POLB’s priority is to recover and get back on its feet quickly, to ensure the continuation of commerce through the port complex.

“Business continuity” is a critical aspect for shippers and for the port. Each year, Long Beach puts about $25 million on security and $15 million on capital expenses toward a more secure port. In fact, more than 30% of non-personnel expenses are related to security, public safety and business continuity. During the last ten years since 9/11, POLB has also received about $120 million in federal grant money for security enhancements.

Back in 2001, there were 35 security cameras overlooking a port that includes 10 piers and 80 berths. Today, security officials have access to about 350 cameras. Long Beach has over 150 cameras in the port complex that can be monitored in the command centre, and additional agreements with tenants and the nearby Port of Los Angeles for sharing video monitoring feeds. The integration of sonar and radar within their system enables them to maintain a watch above, on and below the water. Deep within the command centre, there is a room in which port security systems operators work, where they monitor combined inputs from radar, sonar and cameras. Most of the equipment, especially radar and sonar, is able to view and identify what is in and around the water. It also looks for oddities – things that cannot be properly identified – and this is where the advanced software signal processing comes in.


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