Port of Miami Cargo Gate: using technology to improve throughput and enhance security: Part 1



Dr. Kenneth Christopher, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Park University, Missouri, USA


Recent technology enhancements at Florida’s Port of Miami (POM) have focused on the development and implementation of a new Cargo Gate Complex and Vehicle Processing System. This innovative integration of entrepreneurial business processes with security systems achieves efficiencies in cargo throughout while simultaneously improving access control management. POM is an excellent example of how creative information technology (IT) solutions can help port management merge business and security systems to address the needs of both government security regulations and the cargo container trade.

Prior to 2008, POM, which receives vessel-bound cargo containers primarily by truck, hand-processed gate passes and credentialed individuals accessing the cargo terminals. The port’s complex multipurpose uses, geographical limitations, and older gate technology, as well as post-9/11 security requirements, combined to  produce significant wait times for trucks staging to enter the restricted cargo areas.

The fallout was decreased port revenues, higher operating costs for shippers, cargo terminals, and truckers, as well as increased demands on port security elements implementing str ingent ter ror ism-related threat mitigation strategies.

The port’s use of a homeland security grant and other government capital development funding, as well as a focused effort to have security, business interests, and
IT collaborate on a security/business management solution, resulted in the opening of a new cargo gate complex in 2008, where transactions are managed  predominantly via technologyonly, unmanned gate pedestals. Innovative IT applications, such as optical character recognition (OCR) software and equipment, have enabled POM to improve the processing of cargo entries and exits, and verify compliance with port security credentialing, business permitting, and accounting requirements.

The new technology, combined with port leadership’s focus on enterprise security solutions, has enabled POM to adapt its business model to the necessities of port security, and at the same time, respond positively to cargo interests seeking faster gate processing times.

Overview of the Port of Miami

POM is a 528-acre island-seaport situated on commercially developed spoil islands in Biscayne Bay, connected by bridge to the downtown centre of Miami, providing ready deepwater access for maritime interests to the Atlantic Ocean. POM is a multiuse port, nominally marketed as the “cruise capital of the world” due to its historic dominance in the passenger cruise sector, but it is also a significant U.S. cargo container shipping facility.

In his 2009 State of the Port message, Port Director Bill Johnson indicated the Port of Miami has an economic impact of over US$17 billion a year and generates more than 176,000 jobs. In 2008, 4.1 million passengers, and over 7.4 million tonnes of cargo, generated port revenues of US$101 million. According to information posted on its website, approximately 20 shipping lines use the Port of Miami to call on 100 countries and 250 ports across the world, serving Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America.

Port Security

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US government enacted the Mar itime Transportation Security Act, which established new security  requirements for seaports, including enhanced provisions for managing and controlling access to a port’s designated restricted cargo and shipside areas.

The new security restrictions in essence made seaports a component of the nation’s maritime transportation security planning system. Like many ports facing increased security scrutiny, the POM was required to enhance its access controls to mitigate the risk of terrorists encroaching on critical maritime infrastructure.

Many of these new restrictions (e.g., credentials, vehicle screening, restricted access to vessel docks and cargo areas) affected the movement of cargo into and out
of POM. In addition, Florida has been a leader among US states in developing prescriptive port security standards. Even before 9/11, the state enacted provisions to address the general threat of crime and narcotics trafficking in the state’s 14 deepwater seaports.

The Florida law requires specific actions by ports concerning access control, personnel, cargo security, parking, fencing, lighting, and a host of other security  infrastructure issues. A major aspect of this effort was the requirement that ports develop an access control credential issued pursuant to a fingerprint-based criminal history check. Applicants with specified crimes in their past are prohibited from accessing restricted areas of the seaport.

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