Integrating commerce and security at the world’s ports



Douglas Stevenson, Director of Global Marketing, L3 Communications Security & Detection Systems, Woburn, MA, USA


There is an inherent conflict of interest between key players at the world’s sea ports. Port operators, manufacturers, shippers, and other commercial supply chain stakeholders are focused on maintaining the flow of commerce while customs, security personnel, and governing bodies emphasise the need for heightened security. It is a widely held belief that, as you add security layers to ports, the flow of goods and services will be disrupted.

As regulators move to address security vulnerabilities, port operators should expect additional scrutiny of their operational processes. To reduce the potential impact of such security measures, port operators and commercial supply chain stakeholders should seeks ways to better integrate security systems into their operations. Several high-technology solutions are currently available that can significantly ease the container security screening process. By becoming aware and involved in new security policies and procedures as they evolve, terminal operators, shippers and other key stakeholders can minimise the impact to their operations by working with experienced systems integrators to assimilate new security systems into existing processes in a way that minimises the impact of the new measures.

The push for more security

In light of recent world events, governments around the globe are clamouring for additional security around seaports, airports,  trains, government buildings, and other symbols of commerce and freedom. Governing bodies – especially the US Congress – have targeted the shipping industry as a critical area in need of improvement. Scrutiny of vulnerabilities within the industry will not abate until significant changes are made.

Some regulations have already been put into place, including the requirements placed on shippers and ports by the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which is designed to evaluate risk, enabling governments to offset changes in threats with changes in vulnerability for ships and ports.

Briefly, the ISPS Code requires the following of port facilities:

• Port facility security plans;

• Port facility security officers;

• Certain security equipment;

• Monitoring and controlling access;

• Monitoring the activities of people and cargo; and

• Ensuring that security communications are readily available.

In addition to the ISPS Code, over thirty of the world’s largest shipping ports have adopted and adhere to the regulations of the Container Security Initiative (CSI), which was created by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Built on the premise that American borders are the last line of defense for US-bound trade, not the first, CSI extends the zone of security to those ports that conduct the most trade with the US. Since January 2002, CSI has mandated that maritime containers which pose a risk for terrorism are identified and examined at foreign ports before being shipped to the US.

To meet these regulations – which run contrary to the flow of commerce through ports – many ports are paying an expensive and time-consuming price. According to cargo experts at L3, every time a customs official flags a container for further inspection, it can cost a port facility up to $5,000 to retrieve the container and transport it to and from a screening facility. This is partly due to the lack of compatible communications systems between customs houses and port facilities, and partly due to the lack of real estate at ports.

To accommodate the space needed to house screening equipment, many ports have relegated these systems to locations far from the hub of activity, which increases the time and cost needed to screen them. This cost is in addition to the expense of the initial purchase and ongoing maintenance of the screening system. It remains unclear who will bear the cost of these necessary expenditures. However, port facilities should view this as an opportunity, not a burden. Nothing will happen to advance port security unless someone takes the lead. Port facilities, shippers and other key players have the unique opportunity to stay ahead of regulators and assume a leadership role in determining the most viable security systems. A private solution – created by those who will have to implement and maintain it – will be better, and possibly less expensive, than a government-mandated solution that is imposed upon an unwilling port.

If you can’t beat them, join them

Although many commercial supply chain stakeholders believe that any additional steps in the shipping process – regardless of the security impact that they may have – will negatively impact commerce, it is clear that security regulations are gaining strength and international acceptance. Rather than resist these changes, shippers and port operators would be better served if they sought ways to reduce the impact of the regulations through the use of existing technologies.

Three existing technology solutions can immediately be implemented to meet current security regulations that require port facilities to screen containers and verify manifests, monitor for radiation, and accurately track containers.


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