Sandia LabNews

Sandia works with port authorities on security issues

Unchecked cargo: Sandia security experts help secure US ports

Several Sandians are working with the port authorities and companies that operate and utilize the country’s two busiest ports to reduce the potential threats to homeland security, the supply chain, and the world economy posed by sea cargo.

Forty percent of all goods entering the United States in containers by sea comes through the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach.

The merchandise arrives in truck-sized metal bins — some 15,000 are processed by the two ports during a typical day — each packed in the Far East, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

Although the US Customs Service inspects a small percentage of the containers for terrorist threats and other contraband, relatively few of the incoming containers are opened until they arrive at their manifested destinations within the US.

Gizmos on a pier.

After consulting with security vendors and other experts, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in June 2002 asked Sandia to conduct a threat assessment and offer recommendations to improve the security of the ports and their supply chains.

"Everybody has a device that will solve the security problem," says Sandia port security program manager Charles Massey, Manager of International Borders/Maritime Security Dept. 5356 and former US Merchant Mariner.

"But rather than simply having vendors tell them they must put some gizmos on a pier, the ports wanted someone to understand the threats and ask, What is the combination of procedural and technical solutions that would cost-effectively address those threats?"

The Sandia team includes nonproliferation experts from International Security Programs Center 5300, whose specialties include detecting and preventing smuggling of materials needed to create weapons of mass destruction.

It also includes experts from Security Systems and Technology Center 5800, whose areas of expertise include protecting valuable assets by assessing security threats and correcting vulnerabilities. Critical infrastructure protection experts from Infrastructure and Information Systems Center 6500 are involved as well.

Consequences to be avoided

The team began conducting the security assessments last fall with private funding from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach through a work-for-others agreement.

A grant proposal submitted to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) could provide additional support under the TSA’s Operation Safe Commerce, one of several new government programs intended to help improve supply chain security at US transportation centers.

The Sandians first worked with the ports to prioritize the consequences the ports wished to avoid (see "Port closures among top security concerns" below left).

One of the team’s first questions was, How could a ship or cargo or persons aboard a ship be used to cause loss of life or denial of usage of the port?

Working backwards from each set of undesirable consequences, the team identified threats that could bring about those consequences and security vulnerabilities that could allow the threats to be realized.

The Sandians now are working with the ports to identify the most cost-effective means of dealing with the most significant vulnerabilities.

Technology only part of solution

Although the team is looking at port security from a systems perspective, technology could be part of the overall solution, adds Charles.

Commercially available technologies and Sandia-developed seals, sensors, and information technologies might be useful, but their utility cannot be accurately assessed until Labs and port officials fully understand and prioritize the vulnerabilities and then identify technologies that can fill gaps, he says.

Procedural improvements, as well as training, are likely to be as important as technology improvements, he says.

Ultimately, he says, Sandia’s recommendations to improve security at Long Beach and Los Angeles could be shared with ports around the world.

"What the ports and carriers hope is that improved security doesn’t solely occur through expensive new government mandates," he says, "but rather through an industry-driven effort with independent recommendations adopted as best management practices."

Sandians involved in the project include Dick Wayne (5356, project leader), Larry Miller, Martin Sandoval (both 5849), Roger Case, Jennifer Jacobs, Wendy Clayton (all 5356), Jim Larson (9815), Nancy Orlando-Gay, and Robert Matthews (both 5302).