By Mary Maushard | Photography Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
With six terminals spread over 1,300 acres, access from land and water, thousands of employees and visitors and billions of dollars of cargo coming and going, the Port presents a significant security challenge — on many levels.
But due to diligence, a dedication to safety and security and committed employees, the Port consistently ranks high on the security spectrum. The U.S. Coast Guard has, in fact, just awarded the Port’s six public terminals its highest security ranking — “excellent” — for the ninth consecutive year, based on its annual inspections to ensure the terminals are complying with federal security regulations.
“The success of this year’s exam was due in large measure to the outstanding professionalism, commitment and dedication exhibited by the Port’s Security Department, Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Allied Universal,” said Coast Guard Captain Lonnie Harrison, then Sector Commander for the Maryland-National Capital Region, in a letter to James White, Executive Director of the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA).
“I appreciate and commend these efforts as they greatly enhance our ability to meet our mutual goal of maintaining the safety and security of the Port of Baltimore,” wrote Harrison.
David Espie, Director of Security at MDOT MPA, agrees that the substantial security operation at the public terminals takes commitment, cooperation among several agencies and able employees. It gets a boost from high-quality, advanced technology.
“Since 2001, the Port has received $21 million in federal port security grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),” Espie explained. “We’ve been very fortunate.” This federal money, covering 75 percent of projects with the remainder from state funds, makes the Port’s technology “second to none among ports.”
One of the major technologies is a sophisticated closed-circuit television (CCT) system that allows security officers to monitor all access points and the interior and exterior areas of the terminals. “CCT is used throughout the terminals and can be adjusted to monitor certain special cargo,” such as military equipment or large shipments of luxury cars, he added.
The CCT system has an analytics feature that enables cameras to pick up abnormal activities and send alerts to security staff. “It’s amazing technology,” said Espie, adding that most, if not all, of the technology was made possible by the FEMA grants.
The security department is responsible for securing the Port on land and from the water and has a busy cruise terminal, plus the cargo terminals, to oversee. For its waterside surveillance, it employs military-grade SONAR around the cruise terminal to look out for objects or dangers below the surface of the water.
All this technology is backed up by people — about 100 to cover day-to-day operations at the six terminals, Espie said. There are 45 officers from the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Port Detachment, who also have marine, canine and forensics capabilities, and 50 security officers from the private security firm Allied Universal. The security officers staff all access points and perform other necessary duties.
The Coast Guard, which performs the annual inspections, is the regulatory body for Port security, writing and communicating policy changes and overseeing the Port’s required five-year security plan. The annual visual inspections review access-control procedures and ensure that physical security features, such as lighting and fencing, meet federal standards.
“The size and scope of the Port are large. Security threats can come from anywhere, but the Port addresses them all. They have it pretty well buttoned up. They operate safely,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Dane Grulkey. The Coast Guard also conducts an annual hazardous materials inspection.
Espie described a complex identification system for people and vehicles, including the mVisitor gate pass, a radio frequency ID program (RFID) and the federally mandated Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) — all meant to ensure that individuals have legitimate reasons to enter the Port.
“We do everything we can to secure each terminal while facilitating commerce,” said Espie. The security measures pay off. “We have very little criminal activity.”
There are other payoffs as well: “Security has become another point of marketing,” he added. “We can say, ‘your workers will be safe, your cargo will be safe, your tools and equipment will be safe.’”
“The Port of Baltimore has a consistent record as one of the most productive and secure ports in the nation,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “The Port continues to be one of Maryland’s leading economic engines, and our administration congratulates everyone who had a role in this well-deserved recognition.”