A Royal Dutch Treat

We've written about cargo, port and airport security in the past, but there's nothing like seeing a port first-hand to understand how it all works. Without an up close and personal view, much is left to the imagination of how seagoing vessels arrive in port to unload, only to depart a few days later with hundreds of loaded containers.

Thanks to the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency in The Hague, Netherlands, learning about cargo security at the Port of Rotterdam and airport security at Schiphol Airport became a first-hand experience for me. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port and industrial area in Europe and is in constant development. It also is in close coexistence with housing, industry and transportation infrastructure. Port officials are currently developing more land to increase utility of the port.

While in Rotterdam, I talked with Capt. Jaap C. Lems, director, chief harbor master and port security officer, who said security is top of mind for cargo and shipping employees, as well as thousands of longshoremen and stevedores.

"We have invested millions of dollars in security and use X-ray to scan everything," Lems said. "We also employ fixed and mobile scanning equipment and radiation portal monitors, and customs employs risk analysis factors for everything that comes through this port."

Security in a port this size is not only about what you can see, so there are measures taken for potential incidents unseen, which includes underwater security. The Port of Rotterdam has implemented sensors on the water's surface to ensure that cargo vessels can reach port safely. The port's 160 terminals require the use of radar.

The Netherlands has established a safety region to minimize risks and potential threats from terrorism, fire and emergency response. Twenty cities form the safety region, which has established regional fire and police departments. Also, the department of risk and crisis management includes the Rotterdam Port Authority and harbor master, the environmental department and hazmat advisors.

"Everything is in place for the port authority to conduct high throughput scanning of containers," Lems said. "Based on risk analysis, up to 10 percent of all containers are scanned. Security as a whole is the responsibility of the port authority."

Making certain only authorized ships enter the port, officers in the harbor crisis center work around the clock to monitor the cargo entering the terminal. All vessels, by law, must contact the harbor master at least 24 hours before entering harbor waters to inform them of their type of cargo. This secures docking reservations and ensures that the vessels are met by harbor crews in an inflatable craft. Port authority duty officers are alerted before a ship arrives at the harbor.

If an unidentified vessel were to steer toward the port channels, or if a suspicious vessel moved into the harbor, security officials would be dispatched to investigate. If a situation escalated, the U.S. equivalent of the Coast Guard would appear, weapons at the ready. The harbor has a network of cameras in place to observe all the comings and goings of seagoing vessels. A suspicious vessel would get a special inspection from a port authority pilot, who would board the vessel for the remainder of the trip inside the harbor.

Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is an international way station, a crossroads for local and regional tourist trade, and an economy all its own. It also is home to local and regional mass transportation, as well as a stopping-off point for a European Union high-speed train network.

One security measure in place at Schiphol, which has been rather controversial in the United States, is the fullbody scan, which uses radio waves, not X-rays. The system uses millimeter wave technology, which creates a full-body image by means of reflection. The person steps into a cylindrical device fully clothed, but the generated image is almost completely naked, with the face shielded. The scan reveals all metal, plastic and ceramic objects on the body.

"The airport is in the beginning stages of Phase 2, where we will install as many as 4,000 digital cameras," said Miro Jerkovic, security policy and projects, and senior manager of research and development. "The fiber-optic backbone connects to all five control rooms on the airport, including cameras on the cargo platform and plaza, license plate recognition, air terminal gates and at the railways."

Perhaps the most obvious of security tactics are the constant patrols of (heavily) armed police. At any time, there are about 50 pairs of security officers, and as I am told, at least that many patrols of undercover police.

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Security Today.

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