Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 29, 2006

New report from PPIC on port security

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on June 29, 2006

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has released an excellent, authoritative 296-page report entitled “Protecting the Nation’s Seaports: Balancing Security and Costs.” The report is a must-read for anyone who works on these issues; and folks who are time-constrained can settle for browsing the two-page summary of it.

The report has three main parts. Chapters 2 and 3 examine the potential economic consequences of a terrorist attack on a seaport, with the goal of establishing a baseline that allows informed risk assessment and resource allocation decisions. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 looks at best practices in port security, focusing on “how to seal the container supply chain, how to get the most out of billions of dollars worth of technology development, and how to prepare for emergency response in the case of a terrorist incident at a port.” Chapters 7 and 8 analyze the government response to the port security challenge to date, assessing programs on the basis of cost, effectiveness, clarity of authority, and financing.

The analysis in the report leads the authors to seven concluding recommendations:

  1. The federal government should focus its efforts on preventing the misuse of the supply chain as a means to carry out a terrorist attack by “sealing the supply chain and improving targeting capabilities.” The physical security of the ports themselves should be an important but secondary priority.
  2. A well-honed “rapid response and economic reconstitution plan” is necessary to minimize damage from an attack, given that “how the government reacts to the many problems created by an attack could be as important as how well it anticipates those problems.”
  3. A layered strategy for port security is appropriate, given that “no one measure can provide 100 percent security against the shipment of terrorist materiel in containers’; although it’s difficult to determine how many inspection points or layers are indeed necessary.
  4. Elected officials and senior appointees in the U.S. government needs to do a better job of offering policy guidance to those who must implement port security, rather than “demanding the implementation of multiple programs simultaneously, without setting priorities.”
  5. Port security needs “a more coherent technology policy” that promotes “technology development by the private sector, the purchase of commercial technology and subsequent modification for security purposes—rather than the special development of new security technology—and encouragement of greater international collaboration in technology development.”
  6. More attention needs to be paid to response and recovery activities in the port security system.
  7. The Coast Guard and CBP need additional resources and staffing in order to carry out their assigned port security missions.

These are all important, useful recommendations – and ones that Congress has the opportunity to take action on this year, via the SAFE Port Act (which has already passed the House) and the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act (which is stalled in the Senate).

Overall, an excellent report, and a very important contribution to the public understanding of port security – well worth a close read.

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