The key to safe and secure ports lies not in government regulation, but in getting employees and terminal operators working from the same page when it comes to access to the facility, security experts say.

Peter Berry, Harbour Master for the Port of Windsor, told The Port Security Conference of Canada that his harbour suffered from a high crime rate involving drugs, smuggling and stolen cars. Oversight had fallen into a state of neglect as the federal government worked at discharging responsibility for commercial ports. Being located close to the urban decay of Detroit didn’t help Windsor either. When he set out to fix the situation, he found that the biggest fear of terminal operators was “the kind of people who were hanging around the port.” So he started working with the city police and going door to door in the neighbourhoods near the port to explain why the port would be taking action to restrict access to its facilities. “We addressed the security problem by working with the terminal operators. We kept track of license plate numbers of vehicles coming into or near the port. We worked with Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard. You look for partners among the port stakeholders, the community and the police.” The bottom line is that the port’s crime rate has dropped to near zero and it is no longer a haven for illegal drugs, he said.

Felixpier Bergeron, Director of Security and Fire Prevention at the Port of Montreal, says his port has a Memorandum of Understanding with Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard, which identifies who is responsible for what, and how specific situations are to be responded to. In addition, port facilities are blanketed with closed circuit security cameras and operators are trained to call the police at the first sign of trouble. The port works with the city police on a “we help them and they help us basis.” Every port needs to develop procedures best suited to its particular operations and geography, he added. “That way all users and visitors go through the same security measures.” Montreal was among the first in Canada to establish identification cards for anyone who needs regular access. “It was a groundbreaker at the time and it worked because we had all the stakeholders involved in it.”

Yoss Leclerc, Director of Security for Port Metro Vancouver, said the port has regular security meetings for everyone involved in its operations or terminals and discusses all issues with the unions representing port workers. “You need to keep briefing the workers whose jobs involve security issues. We pay a lot of attention to that.” The port set up an operations centre last year that is staffed around the clock with security and emergency response trained employees, he outlined. Its phone number is noted all around the port so anything untoward is immediately brought to the centre’s attention. “It’s all part of integrating security into the business of the port.” Vancouver has also adopted a single ID card and now has 30,000 active passes, he said. Security officials have developed a training regime for everyone working in the port. “Don’t count on people learning what to do by word of mouth. That’s especially true in a port as big as Vancouver.” He added the port is constantly reviewing its security system and new technology looking for ways to improve and streamline its procedures.

Stephen Baxter, Habour Master at Port Alberni Port Authority, said his harbour reached out of truckers and shippers for ideas on what was required for security. “We wanted to make sure everyone understood what we were doing. The more people you have involved, the better.” Of special interest is ensuring waterside security gets as much attention as controlling land access to the port, he added. Being a small port, Alberni has the advantage of everyone knowing everyone else. “Still, it’s important to take the time to explain security procedures to everyone. They have to understand you’re doing it not to annoy them because you have to.”

Wendy Zatylny, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities, said ports “operate in a dynamic security environment and the issue plays an integral role in trade talks.” So ports have to stay ahead on security matters.