Most everyone is familiar with the threats and vulnerabilities, as well as many of the security technologies and procedures, that protect airports and airplanes. Less well known but more complex, say experts, are the exposures and security needs to guard ships and port facilities.

Similar to airports, port security employs a diversity of security equipment, with video surveillance an essential and fast growing tool. Still, port security continues to employ a variety of unique methods, ranging from specialty sensors positioned along channels and port entryways to small unmanned aircraft configured with day and night cameras, launched by hand, to constantly tour the port. Port security professionals have gear that sniffs out explosives and drugs in locked cargo containers and even employ old-fashioned, but renovated, grappling hooks for boarding boats. Air scouts, electronic noses and digital video watchdogs are taking over the wharf, but these new guards are inheriting a daunting assignment.

Threats from all directions

There are 300 coastal and interwaterway ports in the United States covered under the U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act. Threats can come from under water, on the water, in the air, on the ground and within ships and their cargo. In addition to U.S. homeland security requirements, ports fall under the jurisdiction of the International Maritime Organization. In development for over a year, both the organizations’ and the domestic acts’ high level security measures for protecting ships and port facilities kick in this summer.

One of the most frightening port security assignments on the horizon involves the world’s largest passenger ship, the Queen Mary 2, and the Athens Olympic Games. Greek organizers have charted the ship with the intention of berthing it as an events center. But the plan is giving Olympics security executives all kinds of headaches.

Video, sensor tracking of vessels

Video security will undoubtedly play a major role in port security. Exemplifying this trend, a major unidentified U.S. port, recently announced a $1.5 million upgrade to its security video system. GVI Security Solutions of Carollton, Texas, the company chaired by former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir, will provide some of the equipment, including the company’s Digital Watchdog digital video recorders, intelligent pan, tilt, zoom and smart mini-dome cameras.

Reports from another recent port project note the expenditure of $4.6 million for a state-of-the-art vessel tracking information system. Commissioned for the Port of Corpus Christi, the system implements security video, radar and microwave transmission.

Houston-based Tideland Signal Corp. won the contract to install the tracking system, which mirrors those used by airports to monitor planes. The system uses strategically placed sensors to gather real-time data from transponders on vessels over a certain size and those that carry potentially hazardous cargo.

New-age security systems are also taking to the air. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent a rather innovative approach to security video; security executives liken the units to air scouts. Cyber Aerospace Corp. of West Palm Beach, Fla., is developing such UAVs to operate reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, and perform hunter firefighting, security and first responder missions. The aerial vehicles come with an open access airframe fuselage that can be rapidly field-configured with a wide array of cameras, sensors, weapons and instruments. Next generation UAV units will be amphibious, capable of taking off and landing on land or water.

The nose knows

Unique to port security, a profusion of cargo containers, each capable of carrying hidden explosives or weapons, represents a constant threat. For such applications, Newbury Park, Calif.-based Electronic Sensor Technology manufactures an electronic olfactory sensor, the zNose, that is sensitive enough to sniff out and recognize suspicious odors in explosives, drugs, chemical weapons and even money in cargo containers. According to the firm, the device is able to quantitatively separate and measure the chemistry of any fragrance, odor, vapor or smell with sensitivity to single parts per trillion in 10 seconds. For comparison, man’s best friend can at best be trained to discriminate up to 10 different single-compound odors at a range of tens of parts per billion to 500 parts per trillion.Unlike trace detection technology, electronic noses can be trained to easily recognize an unlimited number of both single-chemical and multi-chemical compound odors.

Minnesota-based ADDCO is adapting its Smart Zone system, primarily used to monitor traffic, for port security. With security cameras on poles to look down on port traffic and intelligent alerting capabilities to analyze images, enhancements can include sensors to check for and alert to radiological and chemical emissions.

In addition to high technology port security solutions such as intelligent security video and unmanned aerial vehicles, port security officials also implement a handful of complimentary low-tech instruments to harden their protection plans. One example of this comes from military developments. Capewell Components of South Windsor, Conn., licensed a lightweight, retractable grappling hook for scaling walls and buildings, and boarding boats from the U.S. Army. The device, which Capewell plans to bring to market later this year, offers a material edge to security officers and first-responders, among others. The Individual Protection Directorate and the Army Natick Soldier Center originally designed, developed and tested the hook as part of its mission to provide warfighters with high-quality, safe and easily portable equipment. The hook, which folds up into a compact, portable cube weighing less than 1.5 pounds, can support 1,608 pounds, or six 268-pound men when deployed.

A smaller hook is also a safer hook: it doesn’t get hung up accidentally while being carried, it can be thrown farther, which offers greater mobility in scaling obstacles, and it affords greater distance in clearing hazards. Grappling hooks have many uses, including gaining entry or providing exit from buildings or ships.