As centers of international trade and commerce, ports are an integral facet of the United States’ critical infrastructure. In a statement made earlier this year, Kurt Nagle, the president and CEO of American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), asserted that “seaport cargo activity accounts for 26 percent of the U.S. economy, generating nearly $4.6 trillion a year in total economic activity, supporting some 23 million American jobs, and producing more than $321 billion federal, state and local tax revenues annually.” Beyond the substantial economic impact of the port industry, millions of ships, cargo and people pass through these gateways each year, so it is imperative that port security is of top priority.  

Security personnel face several obstacles when it comes to keeping traffic moving, cargo secure and individuals safe. One major obstacle is the lack of physical barriers on the water, meaning their perimeters must be safeguarded through other means.

The immense size of ports is another security challenge. The Port of Los Angeles, for example, occupies 7,500 acres (4,300 on land and 3,200 on water).

As of 2010, FBI and industry experts estimate cargo theft to cost shipping owners and truckers close to $30 billion a year in the U.S. alone. Taking all of this into account, it is crucial for a security system to be put in place that allows for situational awareness at all entry and exit points, fosters real-time communication between law enforcement and security personnel, and secure perimeters without physical barriers. Four technologies on the forefront of port protection are thermal cameras, radar, high resolution panoramic cameras and advanced video management systems. They should be part of the overall port security solution, and here’s why.

Thermal cameras measure the electromagnetic radiation emitted by all objects and do not require light to produce video. Because of the ability to create clear images from heat signatures, thermal cameras provide 24-hour surveillance in extreme weather conditions. This means that intruders hiding in the fog or behind foliage can be flagged regardless of lighting conditions.

Many perceive thermal cameras to be expensive, but in reality, they create cost-savings. Since these cameras have a greater detection range when compared to visible light cameras and they do not require a light source, less infrastructure is needed when configuring the surveillance solution. In addition, the cost of thermal cameras has gone down significantly over the years due to wider production and greater availability of the technology. As a result, the price of thermal cameras is comparable to that of visible light cameras.

Radar allows for long-range detection of cargo ships and vessels that are miles away. By identifying targets at long distances, security teams receive an early warning of possible intruders or unverified ships. Approaching objects are shown on a map, and an alert is quickly sent to the command center, allowing for further analysis to determine whether the detected target is a threat.

HD panoramic visible light cameras are the third critical facet of an end-to-end port security system and aid in identification. These cameras enable central station guards to monitor all egress and ingress points as well as unattended cargo. The resolution on these cameras delivers evidentiary-class video in color so security teams can then distinguish crewmembers and staff from unauthorized personnel. Panoramic cameras are also economical. One panoramic camera yields the same coverage as three fixed cameras, helping port authorities maximize their capabilities while saving money.

Finally, the VMS brings integrates these state-of-the-art security technologies into one unified solution and control center. Once a target has been detected by the radar or thermal camera and assessed with the panoramic camera, the VMS allows for a quick, efficient response. An advanced VMS facilitates functions such as GIS tracking, automated alarms, two-way audio, incident reporting and live video streaming from mobile applications of security and law enforcement officers on the ground. Altogether, these technologies help ports authorities increase threat recognition, crime deterrence and overall security.