By Alex Binkley

While ports have come a long way during the last decade in readying themselves to cope with a disaster, whether caused by mankind or nature, they need to place more attention on developing plans to overcome shocks to their supply chains from such an event, says Ralston MacDonnell, President of the MacDonnell Group. While government dictates have kept port operators focused on new security threats and requirements, they can also learn from ports in other countries that were heavily damaged in disasters and struggled to regain their former business, he told the 2014 PORT SECURE conference. He also urged ports to take a greater role in fostering co-operation among marine, highway and rail carriers in responding to any service disruptions.

Capt. Andrew Tucci, Chief of the Office of Ports and Facilities with the U.S. Coast Guard, said natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis “are probably the greater risk to ports.” Plans for recovering from them can be used in responding to a security incident. “The issue is how quickly we can get the port working again. Ports are the nexus for our transportations systems … We have to get the carriers all together so they understand the issues.”

Ports can also help each other, he added. When the Port of New York-New Jersey was overwhelmed by Hurricane Sandy, Vancouver and Seattle assisted in its recovery. Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, Commander of the USCG Ninth District, said plans “to get port operations back into operation are crucial. If there’s a major incident in a port, it could have a ripple effect on the economy just as the 9/11 attacks did. The prevention stuff isn’t terribly exciting but it’s terribly important. It has to be seen as part of the cost of doing business.”

Donald Roussel, acting Associate Deputy Minister of Transport said his department is promoting Marine Commerce Resilience to encourage ports, carriers and shippers to be prepared for disasters, accidents and incidents. “MCR can help them bounce back from supply chain disruptions.” Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) have co-led an IMO working group on MCR best practices, he noted. Among the important steps are controlling port visitors and developing guidelines on how ports can protect themselves and their customers. It’s also crucial that any security incidents be reported immediately to federal authorities so as fast response is possible.

On the security side, Tucci said Great Lakes ports need to be alert to cyber-security threats. “There are more opportunities for hackers to strike in that region and recovery from that kind of attack is just as important as overcoming any other disaster.” The widespread use of computer systems in industrial systems, navigation safety and security programs means hackers have plenty of avenues for creating havoc. Once again team work is crucial, he added. “We really need to get the IT types together with the shippers, carriers and port operators to work on protecting computer systems from invasions. The systems are thoroughly integrated with both the ships and the ports.” Threats come from a wide range of forces including hostile countries, criminal gangs, hactavists, lone wolves and “just simple technical failure. We need more complex defensive mechanisms than just passwords.

To run all their features, modern vessels have more powerful Wi-Fi systems on board than most ports operate, he noted. That opens another possible threat to the port. Kristine Stolarik, a Director General with Canadian Border Services Agency, said her department is working with U.S. officials on a border security strategy, which would create one window data submission for marine freight shipments. “It would be a cleared once, accepted twice approach. We want to make this as seamless as possible.” The two countries would also track the entry and exit of goods. Next year, it would mean people wouldn’t be allowed to board flights to North America if they were undesired in either country.

Canada has convinced the U.S. that inspections of goods upon arrival in Prince Rupert no longer require a second inspection at the American border, she said. CBSA is now trying to get the same acceptance for freight arriving in Montreal and headed for U.S. destinations. Port Metro Vancouver will be receiving a new container examination facility next year.

Yolanda MacArthur, an RCMP intelligence officer assigned to the Great Lakes Marine Security Operations Centre in Niagara on the Lake, said it and the Pacific and Atlantic regional facilities were set up in 2004 to collect operational intelligence on marine traffic and threats and to respond to any incidents. “We have a picture of all the vessel traffic in Canadian waters. The Great Lakes Centre covers from Thunder Bay to the St. Lambert lock in Montreal. The Great Lakes are a target rich environment full of critical infrastructure, bridges and tunnels and oil and chemical industries and the Seaway. We are tracking ships and anything else that could affect the waterway.”

One of its current concerns is the smuggling of illegal tobacco into Canada because it is an indicator of how other illegal goods could be brought into Canada, she said. The RCMP is working with a new radar system called Accipiter and creating infrastructure for increased satellite surveillance of all critical infrastructure. The Centre is even tracking the new container service between Antwerp and the Port of Cleveland for potential threats. It’s investigating the use of aerial drones for expanded infrastructure surveillance.

In a separate presentation, RCMP Inspector Jamie Solesme noted that Canada and the United States share a federal co-ordination centre to monitor criminal and terrorist activity. It was in operation for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and the G20 Summit in Toronto and includes the Shiprider program under which Canadian and American Coast Guard vessels patrolling in territorial waters can carry police officers from both countries.

Rear Admiral Midgette said the Marine Security Centre in Niagara on the Lake “allows us to co-operate on security issues and avoid multiple levels of bureaucracy in terms of tracking ships. It’s a seamless operation that helps us track the movement of vessels in American and Canadian ports and waters. The goal of the cross-border cooperation is to prevent security incidents in the first place. We work on prevention and response knowing that the latter costs a lot more money.”

The Great Lakes region receives special attention because the provinces and states in it constitute the fourth largest economy in the world, he pointed out. The region is a showcase of cross-border cooperation such as in the break-up of ice on the Great Lakes this spring. “We have more icebreakers, but yours are bigger. Even when Canada brought in five additional breakers, it was beast of a job. It was the equivalent of three years of icebreaking in a normal winter.

Among the issues facing the two countries is the processing of marine shipping containers to prevent any security threats, he added. “We have to get better at this so we can move them through the system as quickly possible. But we have to keep an eye on what’s going in with containers because people can move a lot of stuff in the move. That makes supply chain security crucial. We have to watch where they’re going.” After that comes the safe shipment of LNG and crude oil through heavily-populated areas. “We need to have situational awareness of what’s moving.” 

He said the USCG hasn’t been convinced of the utility of aerial drones “because they’re costly even without pilots. There are lots of uses for them but we aren’t there yet.” Roussel said that all signs point to increased marine traffic in the future, which makes security and recovery plans even more important. “For port managers, security is extremely expensive but it’s a lot more expensive if you don’t do it.”

Transport Canada would like to see ports take a more active role in pointing out the best mode to transport various goods about the country, he said. That discussion isn’t happening because each mode looks after its own interests. “The back-up of ships in Vancouver this past winter show the need for ports to become more involved in the planning of freight movements. Ports need to take a bigger role in integrating transportation.