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Re-named 'PortMiami' beefs up its security and infrastructure

When you’re surrounded, with nowhere to go, and are facing a monumental challenge, efficiency and multi-tasking are your best friends.

That’s the lesson the Port of Miami has learned since it began replacing its paper-based records and management processes back in the 1990’s with electronic systems that could not only keep track of port assets, but make sure they’re secure at the same time.

The port, recently re-named PortMiami, is located on an island in Biscayne Bay near its namesake city. To be precise, the port is connected to downtown Miami by a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. The port is located on Dodge Island, a combination of three islands combined into a single land mass. That rather unique geographic detail is what has defined the ports security capabilities, Louis Noriega, chief information officer at the facility told Government Security News in an interview.

Noriega, who began work at the port in the 1990’s has seen the facility grow into one of the busiest cargo and passenger ports in the country. Port officials said at a Feb. news briefing that the port saw more than 4 million passengers for the fourth consecutive year, which they said was more than any other port in the world. They also said the facility had boosted its cargo operation by seven percent in 2011, compared to five percent growth the previous year.  The port will see three more cruise lines begin operations this year including Regent Seven Seas, MSC Cruises and Disney.

The port is anticipated to be a heavy recipient of massive super freighter traffic that will travel through a newly-expanded Panama Canal in 2014. That’s when the Panama Canal will complete a $5.3 billion expansion to double its capacity allowing new giant "post-Panamax" vessels  to sail more quickly and directly to the East Coast. The expansion is set to change the global flow of freight traffic, with fewer, but much larger, ships stopping at fewer ports to load and unload their cargo. Ports up and down the east coast of the U.S., with Boston, New York, Norfolk and others are setting themselves up to compete for the traffic.


The State of Florida has been busy sprucing up the channel leading to PortMiami, as well as providing money to improve rail lines and for a new tunnel connecting the port to the city of Miami in anticipation of the new traffic.

Despite the spike in current and projected activity, the port can’t expand its physical footprint like some other facilities can to handle the growing load of passengers, cargo and ships. “On an island, there is nowhere to expand or add terminals. The only way we’re able to grow is through efficiency,” he said. That includes the efficiency of security systems.

The port has installed a huge cadre of sensors, cameras, alarming and identification systems that are interconnected through a Physical Security Information Management System (PSIM) allowing all the components to be divvied up according to application and need among security and information management operations. The 300-400 IP-connected cameras at the port provide a foundation for a number of security and financial applications, said Noriega.

For instance, he said, the port has five parking garages that cruise passengers can use while they’re on their trips. The garages bring in money for the port, but also present a security challenge. Security operations can track license plates and people with the cameras, while the financial operations of the port can track cash movement at payment kiosks, he said.

Cameras on the cruise ship docks can help monitor crowds for suspicious activity, but also help maintenance workers get a better handle on crowd movement, allowing them more efficiency in planning when they can move in to clean ships and prepare for departures.

The PSIM system also allows fire alarms around the port to be monitored from one site on one system. The system also allows more mundane processes like shutting off air conditioning to be performed. It can also send out voice over IP telephone calls to the proper agencies when alarms go off, said Noriega.

The port also installed its own radar surveillance system three years ago, said Noriega. The waterside radar system provides situational awareness of the waterways in the general areas around the port, as well as security officers in patrol using laptops for onsite real-time target and video display. The system, said Noriega, is more effective than Coast Guard provided radar that was primarily developed for use out at sea.

A mass notification system is planned and security will be expanded as the port opens a new entrance tunnel in 2014, said Noriega. The $1 billion tunnel will become the main entrance to the facility from Miami, which entails duplicating security features like video and sensor systems that are now on the causeway bridge that is the current primary entrance to the site, he said.

The technology, said Noriega is probably the easy part of such a mammoth project. Getting machines to talk to one another is a matter of entering the right codes. Making people talk to one another to collaborate on the minutia of huge construction projects can be a bigger challenge, he said.


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