Port-ability

Keeping up with recent changes and challenges

When it comes to protecting transportation hubs, seaports have their own set of challenges. To mitigate potential risks along water-facing perimeters requires advance security measures, while busy container yards, entry gates and terminals need solutions that strike a delicate balance between security, safety and operational efficiency. Those challenges will continue to compound as container volume increases sharply in the coming decades. Port operators will have to find creative ways to manage the expected growth in commerce, using technology to help expedite the flow and inspection of containers as they moved to and from the yards.

I sat down with my colleague, Jeff Brown, to discuss how ports are currently using network video surveillance technology to address those challenges. Jeff is the Managing Partner of Transportation Technology Associates based in Melbourne Beach, Fla., and a recognized expert witness on matters of port security and operations by the Federal Court of Appeals. Jeff also spent many years as head of security at a major U.S. seaport.

Anthony Incorvati: Have you seen any changes in recent years in how U.S. ports deal with safety and security issues? Jeff Brown: Up until 15 years ago, most ports adhered to the minimum requirements of the Coast Guard for cruise terminals and facilities handling certain dangerous cargos. Since then, the government passed the Maritime Transportation Safety Act which led to the development of a comprehensive Code of Regulations for maritime/port security. Port operators are now required to do a risk assessment of their port and facilities and develop and implement a comprehensive security plan that meets these federal standards.

That being said, port operators quickly realized that they couldn’t possibly implement those security measures with personnel alone. So the owners started turning to surveillance systems as force multipliers.

Interestingly enough, once ports began investing in cameras for security operations departments started asking for access to camera systems so they could monitor activity in and around the terminals from an efficiency and safety perspective.

Incorvati: What are some of the strategic ways cameras are being used for port security? Brown: Typically ports deploy cameras for perimeter security. They’re looking to keep a close eye on fence lines, gates, turnstiles, and waterside access areas. For instance, having cameras at the gates makes it possible to visually verify that an access card cardholder and the access credential match one another before releasing the gate lock or the turnstile.

Cameras are also being used to scan the inside of vehicles to make sure there’s only one occupant so that unauthorized individuals don’t enter the facility covertly or by piggybacking on a legitimate person’s entry in a turnstile. Video cameras are also being used to capture information about the vehicle and its cargo – the license plate and the container numbers – which can be than be matched to the registered shipper, the truck and driver. That way security has a better sense of who’s coming into the port and what they’re bringing with them. The captured video also serves as a forensic record that can be used to locate the driver and, hopefully, the container in the event the container is inadvertently released or stolen.

Waterside security presents its own particular challenges. Sun reflecting off the water during the daytime washes out a camera view. At nighttime, the waterside is pitch-black making it difficult to detect covert approaches. Security departments are addressing waterside surveillance issues with a strategic combination of thermal cameras and other motion sensors such as radar.

Incorvati: Can you talk about some of the other types of cameras being deployed for security? Brown: Historically, ports used analog cameras. But we’re seeing a shift to IP-based cameras as ports are becoming more technically savvy. That’s proven to be significantly advantageous, not only in terms of infrastructure requirements but also in terms of system capabilities. Instead of the long runs of coax cable needed for analog systems, IP-based systems connect to the port’s existing fiber networks. Once cameras are connected to the network, security staff can log into the cameras remotely from authorized mobile devices as well as traditional desktops in the security command center.

Ports, by virtue of their diverse environments, rely on a diverse portfolio of cameras to capture the details they need for forensic investigations and maritime security. Thermal cameras, as I mentioned before, are popular for detecting waterside approaches at night. You’ll also find a variety of fixed and pan/tilt/zoom network cameras, network cameras with wide-angle lenses, day/ night network cameras, lowlight network cameras, and network cameras with 360 degree capabilities being used to cover critical port and facilities areas 24/7, 365 days a year.

Incorvati: Now that we’ve talk about the security side, what’s different about the way a port’s operations department uses the video cameras? Brown: Basically the focus on the operations side is on efficiency and safety – whether it’s the movement of cargo or the movement of cruise ship passengers. It all starts with traffic outside the gate on roadway approaches. The quicker you move containers and people through gates, the more cost-effective your operation will be and the more attractive your port will be for companies to do business there. So the operations department uses the video cameras like an intelligent highway system, monitoring traffic queues so they can adjust staffing and lane openings on the fly in order to maximize throughput and minimize wait times.

From a commerce perspective, the cameras provide an empirical record of what is being trucked into the premises and what is being trucked out. Cameras equipped with recognition software record the vehicle’s license plate and each cargo container number and tie them to the driver’s credentials in an electronic record.

Once inside the gate, cameras help yard managers direct the movement of cargo. Managers can monitor yard activity, identify slots for loading and unloading, detect problems in the lanes and dispatch resources all from the safety of their office. I’ve even seen some ports put cameras on the cargo cranes to help operators lock the lift arm mechanism onto boxes and move the boxes into slots. It’s actually a lot faster and safer than depending on someone in the yard waving you on with hand signals.

And then, of course, there’s the cruise terminal side of the operation. While they certainly deploy cameras around perimeters and at gates like they do in a cargo yard, there’s also a lot of emphasis on monitoring escalators. Ports are infamous for getting into litigation over slip-and-falls on escalators. And the cameras help to mitigate those types of lawsuits.

Camera systems are becoming integral to other types of critical maritime facilities, especially refineries. Refinery safety is a great application for cameras equipped with thermal analytics because they can be programmed to detect and alert operators to temperature variations on pumps that might lead to a fuel leak or to a bearing seize-up that would shut down operations. Having that kind of an early warning system is critical in those environments, especially when you’re moving flammable liquids through a pump and pipeline.

Incorvati: Have you seen other analytics being used much at ports? Brown: The first thing to remember is that no one sensor does everything well in every location. Video analytics work well on a fence line detection system, generating an alarm if someone attempts to climb the fence or jump the gate. But analytics typically fail on waterside surveillance because wave action tends to create false alarms and sunlight reflecting off the water washes out camera views.

However, analytics work great in cruise terminal parking garages. They can detect and alert security to someone casing cars to break into or if someone is being assaulted.

I always recommend that ports use a strategic mix of sensors – fiber optics fence detection systems coupled with cameras, radar sensors coupled with cameras, and cameras equipped with video analytics to address the unique topology of the environment. There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to using technology to improve security. Every tool in the toolbox has its strengths and weaknesses.

Incorvati: Are there other ways ports are leveraging their video system investment? Brown: Training is another area where cameras are becoming indispensable. Having a video history of an event helps you see how it all unfolded and you might do things differently in the future. It’s also a way to monitor employee performance. You have to remember, working in a port isn’t like working at a discount store. These facilities are restricted under Federal law and have to have a higher level of security.

The people who protect them have to be held to a higher standard. So it’s important for port managers to know that their people are doing their jobs right, that they’re not accessing areas of the facilities that they shouldn’t or allowing anyone else to enter who doesn’t belong there.

Incorvati: We hear a lot about the convergence of IT and security. Has that had an impact on the way ports approach IP video technology? Brown: I’ve always been a proponent of IT being involved in the design and procurement of the security system because the technology is generally outside the expertise of the average of security/ law enforcement group. I’ve seen what happens when a security department tries to procure and deploy complex technology solutions by themselves. Oftentimes they don’t really understand what they’ve bought or the total cost of managing and owning it. Typically the IT Department is left holding the bag because the solution is either unstable or incompatible with other technology riding on their network.

I’m a firm believer that the IT department should own the technology systems and have the security department be their client. That way each group gets to do what they do best. Security departments get the service level agreements they need because IT recognizes that the cameras are mission critical to the port’s operation and IT gets control over what technology gets attached to their network. However, I’ve also seen where some ports have addressed this issue by giving the security department its own IT staff to install and maintain the surveillance systems.

As a member of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), the leading professional maritime organization, I’m definitely seeing the affect that the convergence of security and IT is having on the industry. AAPA’s security and IT committees are now holding joint conferences on a regular basis to discuss how the industry can best leverage the convergence of technology with port safety, security and efficiency. Incorvati: What I take away from our conversations is that IP video technology will continue to play an important role both in port security and port operations and safety. I’m already seeing a number of camera manufacturers producing cameras with capabilities especially well-suited to port environments.

There are thermal cameras that can reveal the heat signature of intruders attempting to scale security fences or approach a waterside under cover of darkness. Pan/tilt cameras with optical zoom are helping inspectors to remotely examine containers in a yard that might stretch the length of six football fields instead of walking all that distance on foot and running the risk of being hit by a massive crane or stacker. Port operators can now use presets coupled with video analytics to enable a camera to sense an event, such as a reach stacker attaching to a container, and execute a sequence of predetermined moves to scan and record the condition of a container’s sides and bottoms. It’s the kind of visual archive that can assist a port in determining liability in case someone should submit an insurance claim.

But what’s most clear to me is that the strategic partnership between IT and security is essential for the long-term success of whatever solution ports choose to implement.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Security Today.

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