GCN Special Report: At L.A. and Long Beach, a raft of security worries

For the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's largest and third-largest ports based on volume, sheer size has proven to be a constraining factor in improving security.

To call these ports a 'sprawling complex' is like calling the Veterans Affairs Department a large health care provider. Last year, the Port of Los Angeles accounted for 15 percent of the value of total U.S. international waterborne trade, while Long Beach handled another 12 percent. More than 5,100 ships docked at one facility or the other, ferrying nearly $220 billion worth of goods. Only Hong Kong and Singapore moved more cargo. Some 44 percent of all goods imported to the United States enter through these harbors.

Implementing tighter physical security'let alone anti-terrorism measures'is a mammoth undertaking. The ports together cover more than 10,000 acres. The Port of Los Angeles alone has more than 45 miles of shoreline. Three major highways criss-cross the ports, along with several bridges and exit ramps.

The two ports are so entwined that color-coded maps are needed to tell them apart. Yet each port is governed by separate harbor commissions; and both are 'landlord' ports, which means all the terminals are leased by private companies, which provide their own security. If a security breach occurs, the lines of jurisdiction can tangle quickly, with two port police forces having to coordinate with county and state law enforcement, CBP, immigration officials and the Coast Guard.

Because these ports form the linchpin of U.S. maritime commerce'and are surrounded by almost 50 percent of California's population'they are often first in line to get mandated security procedures, such as use of nonintrusive gamma-ray machines to inspect cargo. They also have participated in virtually every pilot program going, from access control to process studies to streamline container movements.

William Ellis, the director of security for the Port of Long Beach until his retirement earlier this year, said the volume of commerce and geographic characteristics add their own twists to securing the port. Ellis cited a software application his IT team developed. The application shows a layered map of the terminal, including aerial views, with each layer representing a different level of infrastructure'roads, water lines, electrical sources, telephone cables, gas lines and other structures. If there is an incident somewhere in the port, said Ellis, the dispatcher can call up the map and tell first responders where critical resources are and what is at risk.

Ellis shook his head when asked if the port planned to make the tool available to other facilities, including the Port of Los Angeles.

'We're not in the commercial software business,' he said

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