By MARC PEARL
When most Americans think of threats to the homeland, they often think of the transportation sector. After all, terrorists used four commercial airplanes as weapons to attack the U.S. on 9/11, and struck public transit systems in London and Madrid in the years that followed. While air travel and mass transit should remain areas of high focus, the maritime transportation environment is an area of homeland security that needs equal attention.
In early November, I brought a group of industry executives to tour the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The attendees were struck by the size, complexity, and economic significance of the operations at the two largest seaports in North America. We live in a society that is highly dependent on the just-in-time arrival of goods produced across the globe. As the world gets ‚Äúflatter‚Äù and the supply chain gets longer, the traffic coming into our ports is dramatically increasing. U.S. seaports are critical transportation gateways for international commerce, and they handle more than $1.3 trillion in cargo annually. The ships arriving at our ports carry goods both essential and expected in our daily life, such as food, clothing, oil and gas, chemical supplies, plastics, automobiles, furniture, and electronics. Our military also relies on the ports to ship out supplies and equipment for overseas operations. Even a minor disruption at one or more of our ports could have catastrophic consequences on our economy and national security interests.
Many do not realize that 21st century maritime operations are a sophisticated, information technology-driven enterprise. High definition cameras, radars, sonars, and other sensors track ships and containers. GPS and other networked devices help pilots safely guide vessels into and out of the harbor. Terminal and container operations such as the loading and unloading of goods and movement through the port are becoming increasingly automated. Logistics management systems track cargo from their point of departure overseas until reaching their final destination in the U.S. Electronic data submissions alert officials to the content and quantity of items held in containers. Scanners and radio frequency identification device (RFID) tags track cargo as it enters and exits the ports, as well as the trucks, railcars, and drivers that transport the goods.