Port Security: A Matter of Cooperation

Jul 15, 2011

Are North America’s ports vulnerable to attack that would cripple our economy or annihilate our society? The answer is no to both, but the safety of our economy from port ­disruption needs closer scrutiny. Threats to airports involve people and the potential use of aircraft as WMDs. Seaports, on the other hand, normally involve very little in the way of transporting people, though cruise boating continues to grow at double-digit rates.

Port of the City of Toronto.

In terms of overall national security and public safety, port security designs and day-to-day operations can offer much insight into how to make any enterprise resilient to business disruption and asset damage. In fact, by looking at any well-run port, it becomes apparent quickly that there is a “system” at play that promotes safety and security. That system, though strong, is not bulletproof.

The Port of the City of Toronto is a very busy yet very secure port that connects the U.S. to Canada. The Toronto Port Authority, headed by Angus Armstrong, Harbour Master and Chief of Security, relies on a close relationship with the Toronto Police Services to ensure the port remains safe and secure.

Without the help of the Toronto Police, the port would face severe and unacceptable risks to its daily flow of several billions of dollars in US-Canada bilateral trade.

To understand the balance between port security and commercial effectiveness, FrontLine Security tapped the shoulder of Keith Melo, program coordinator in the School of Emergency Management at George Brown College, to convene a roundtable discussion with Angus Armstrong and his Toronto Police partners to discuss the fine balance between commerce and safety at the ports. Sergeant Ross Lindsay, head of the Marine Unit, and Gary Gibson, ­Community Information Officer, joined the discussions.

Overall, the Toronto Port is successful ,both as a business and a secure facility, due to adherence to the ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) Code – the code of procedure issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). By following the ISPS religiously, any port around the world can ensure that cargo coming into that port is safe and has been subjected to internationally agreed-upon procedures for inspection and control. American ports only acccept cargo from ISPS-accredited ships and ports.

Progressive ports like Toronto’s apply the ISPS Code compliance standards and reinforce them with good policing techniques to fortify the port. Together, the Port Authority and the city police apply interagency cooperation such as intelligence ­sharing and training to round out the safety and security picture.

Ever since Marlon Brando depicted the conflicted role of Terry in the 1954 movie, On the Waterfront, the public has associated organized crime with seaport operations. The bad rap for seaports (as opposed to, perhaps, land or airports) is somewhat ­justified today as well. Moreover, the new millennium ushered in a serious threat of terrorism to further complicate the picture. Large terrorist organizations use criminal activities to raise money to fund their terrorist activities. Once a criminal element gets established in the port and can move contraband such as drugs, autos or guns,  such activities increase quickly. Needless to say, criminals will move anything for money, so all are closely linked. In Toronto, as in many other progressive seaports around North America, the integration of threats has demanded an equally integrated set of solutions.

Human Factors
The roundtable discussion produced consensus on some issues, such as the need to rely on a proven “chain of control” which can be achieved by following the ISPS Code to the letter, plus! That “plus” is the human factor side of security that could apply, not just to ports, but to most other elements of critical infrastructure.

Patrolling the waterways around Vancouver. (Photo: Port Metro Vancouver 2011)

Besides the standards of the ISPS, the consensus was that the following three key human factor-oriented considerations should top the list.

The first is intelligence. For instance, the Harbour Master/Chief of Security seeks information from trusted sources – mostly other law enforcement and border security agencies – to determine if a given vessel coming into port is friend or foe, criminal or law abiding. He will compare data points concerning the vessel as it left an ISPS-cleared port on its way to Toronto, and as it came through the St. Lawrence Seaway straddling the U.S. Canadian border. “Watch the chain,” notes Armstrong. “How is it doing as a chain of delivery? Where is it coming from? Who has handled it? Where is it going? Then you can begin to look at the high risk vessels. You can then use a matrix for risk assessment.”

The information coming from other agencies down the line, the intel that is used to make decisions at the port, is really a manifestation of interagency cooperation, the second human factor.

Ultimately, both civilian and military forces contribute to, and coordinate, seaport security operations. For Toronto, that means both Canadian and U.S. agencies agree to common response parameters and activities in the event of a port security threat or incident.

For the Great Lakes, a practical example of this is the Maritime Security Enforcement Team (MSET) comprised of security personnel from agencies such as the Toronto Police, regional police forces, the U.S. Coast Guard, RCMP, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA). Together, this team conducts planning and interagency training operations in preparation for any conceivable emergency.

That brings us to the third human consideration: learning. Angus Armstrong considers the training program developed at George Brown College to be a good “template” for ensuring that all port personnel are trained to ISPC standards. When all security personnel around a port are trained to the same standards, security work is a smoother and integrated system. But learning also involves the public, and this is the job of police community information and liaison officers like Gary Gibson. “When you look at the big picture, we need public input. Public and business awareness is key to effective public safety. So a big part of my job is talking to groups of citizens about security awareness. People are reluctant to call the police. The right thing to do is to make sure that suspicious activity does get reported to the police. This message is being delivered to businesses and residences around the port, and the attitude of officers is one of cooperation.”

Port Security for transparent borders
Overall, the roundtable discussion was grounded in common sense. “The stakeholders in the port security agenda work together as a team,” said Sgt Ross Lindsay. “We work with the members of the U.S. and Canadian agencies, as well as with the corporate customers at the port, to devise contingency plans. Then we create scenarios about potential security threats that all team members use to practice integrated response procedures. We understand that a terrorist threat, for example, creates as much, or more, psychological damage as physical damage, so we plan isolation manoeuvers to move any potentially dangerous vessel away from public areas.”

The roundtable concluded by going back to basics on the objectives. Ports are mostly about moving cargo safely and efficiently from one country to the next. “If you know where something is coming from, you know it has not been tampered with along the way, and you are certain it does not represent a threat to anyone, [you can] keep it moving,” is the pragmatic advice from Toronto’s Harbour Master.

U.S. industry is dependent on Canadian imports and vice versa. Interagency cooperation is key. With the technological advances available today, we should be able to allow the secure system – designed and directed by the ISPS, and implemented by compliant governments – to move cargo without interminable delays at the border. When cargo comes through that system at Halifax, it should be as though it had landed and been cleared in Boston.  

Edward R. Myers is the Editor of FrontLine.
© FrontLine Security 2011