Modernization Efforts and Current

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2003-09-09 Print this article Print


Managers like Boyle in many cases have spent their entire careers administering the movement of bananas, coffee, steel, trucks, toys and other articles of everyday industry and life. Now, they have become the nations first lines of seaport defense, in many ways. They, better than anyone else, know the normal operations of a port and can quickly determine if something—a person, a vehicle, a piece of equipment—appears to be moving or working in a suspicious manner. They are the primary gatherers of local observations for law enforcement and intelligence officers. And, at so-called landlord ports such as Oakland, where shipping companies run their own loading and unloading operations in facilities leased from the port authority, the Ray Boyles of the port are the liaisons between shippers and federal agencies, such as the Coast Guard.

Open Borders

Port managers like Boyle also are the first responders to immediate threats. If a suspicious ship was coming through the Golden Gate, for instance, Boyle could help decide the safest place to dock the ship. He also can find room for inspectors and their detection equipment to operate.

But Boyle and the port he manages can be left adrift, when the information and communications systems that tie Customs and the Coast Guard to the professionals at the port are flawed.

Customs has embarked on a computer modernization effort to better capture and process information from manifests. But it will cost more than $1 billion and wont be finished for another four years. The Coast Guard has started on a massive upgrade to its fleet, which will include new onboard computer systems that will give ship commanders instant access to its ship registry and crew databases. It will cost $17 billion and take at least 10 and possibly 20 years.

Boyle doesnt have that much time. He has to defend his port today.

Boyles office building faces Oaklands Inner Harbor, where incoming ships turn around before unloading and heading back out to sea. A recent summer afternoon was like any other. One of the massive ships, its deck packed five containers high, was slowly spun by a pair of tugs. Neither Ray Boyle, nor local customs officials, nor the Oakland Coast Guard detail could say with absolute certainty what was on that vessel.

Worrying about container contents was not how the stocky Boyle expected to be spending his days. As a young man, he joined the military and pursued a career in the Army. A reduction in military forces after the Vietnam War changed his plans. A man with the solid frame of a longshoreman, he started at the Port of Oakland 30 years ago tracking tariffs and learned about the shipping industry. He worked his way up to Maritime Director, responsible for just about all port operations "There are a lot of people here like that," he says. "You pick things up as you go."

By summer 2001, he was ready to pick things up altogether. He wrote a book on port operations, planned to retire and figured he would work for a few years as a consultant. Sept. 11 changed all that. The new maritime director, Jerry Bridges, asked him to handle security and, the next thing Boyle knew, he had to pick up a lot of new things as he went along.

Now, Boyles days start as early as 6:30 a.m. and are fueled by bite-sized hits of candy from jars in his office promoted as "Sugar Central." A typical day this past August began with a pair of discussions on security issues with Coast Guard and shipping-company reps. After the back-to-back meetings, Boyle raced to his office for an afternoon of writing applications for port-security grants. The deadline for the third round of grants totaling $104 million from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is less than two weeks away. Competition for funds will be fierce; the Port of Oakland by itself is seeking about $55 million.

In the first two rounds, Boyle won federal funding for basic perimeter security, including: digital cameras to observe what happens around the port; motion-detecting wires in chain-link fences around the terminal yards to catch intruders; an access-control system for port employees; and mobile barriers to divert vehicular traffic in case the Coast Guard decides the port is directly threatened.

But the port has a long list of projects that werent funded: an emergency communications network that would connect the marine terminals with the Oakland Police De- partment; an unmanned vessel that would patrol Oaklands harbor; a way to harden the chain-link fences to make them higher and more difficult to climb; and other projects. Boyle, for instance, wants to test the issuance of identity cards to transportation workers, so that a working system is ready to go when cards are required. TSA has yet to set a deadline, but Boyle expects the cards to be deployed within three years.

Next page: Funding favorabilty for aviation security and how to mitigate port risks.


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