Responding to Incidents in a Neighboring Port

The port is one of the more challenging – i.e., dangerous – work environments in countries throughout the world.  The goal of each port is to move cargo and passengers in and out as efficiently and safely as possible. By their very nature, ports present unique challenges for law-enforcement and fire-rescue agencies from concurrent jurisdictions.  Most of the larger ports within the United States have their own internal fire and police departments, but require outside assistance during mass-casualty events or other major disasters.  Those critical resources will almost always come from the police and fire departments in cities, towns, and other jurisdictions relatively close to the ports.

Captain James Maes, USCG (Ret.), is the director of Port Services for ABS Consulting.  Before working for ABS he was the Coast Guard’s Captain of the Port for Sector Miami and also the director of safety and security for the Port of Miami.  He points out that there are three key prerequisites to successfully responding to port incidents: (1) Developing an effective plan; (2) Testing the plan through drills and exercises; and (3) Incorporating into the plan the essential “lessons learned” from the drills and exercises.  “Any plan worth having is a plan worth exercising,” Maes comments.  “The public-safety agencies, port tenants, and federal agencies all have different plans so it is important to exercise those plans to understand how the separate plans work together.”

An effective emergency-response plan will not necessarily address each and every possible aspect of a particular situation, but it is nonetheless important to have a fairly comprehensive response plan in place to understand how the various agencies from neighboring jurisdictions are going to work together in the event of a true large-scale emergency.  “It is also a goodea for the agencies that surround the port to become familiar with the port and maritime environment before an incident,” Maes says.  “Training and exercises expose responders to potential situations they may encounter during an incident.  The training helps responders understand how to get out of a potentially dangerous situation.”

People and Cargo – a Lethal Mix Many ports house not only all types of cargo – including hazardous chemicals and fuel – but also handle large numbers of cruise passengers.  Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for example — which does handle both hazardous cargo and fuel – is the largest cruise port in the world.  “There are a lot of things to consider and understand before responding to an incident in the port,” says Chief Dan Cummings of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which is responsible for law enforcement in Port Everglades.  Cummings says he must always consider how the law-enforcement actions are going to affect the local community.  “We shut the port down for over 12 hours” after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, he recalls. However, gas stations along the Florida Turnpike “were running out of fuel, so we had a find a way to safely get fuel moving again.” 

Port Everglades is bordered by three different cities in Broward County – Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, and Dania Beach.  “It is important that we understand the response capabilities of our surrounding agencies,” Cummings points out.  For that reason, he continues, “We hold monthly meetings at the port with the surrounding agencies, port tenants, federal agencies, and the port director to discuss what is going on in the port.” The meetings not only help in the planning process, but also serve as “a way for people from the different agencies to get to know each other.”

When there is a port incident that requires help from neighboring response agencies, Cummings must immediately consider not only how to maintain the flow of people and vehicles into and outside of the port but also where to set up a large-scale staging area with a reliable official on the scene to keep track of: (a) what agencies are at the staging area; and (b) the capabilities of those agencies.  “We have had incidents in the past,” he points out, “with multiple agencies responding where everyone tries to get as close to the situation as possible and then leaves their vehicles in the way — blocking additional response units and [other] traffic.”  

Cummings and Maes agree that multi-agency planning, training, and effective communications are the keys to successfully responding to port incidents.  “Training helps responders understand how the plans and people are going to work together during an actual situation,” Maes says. “During any incident,” Cummings adds, “it is important to establish good communication with the different responding agencies and also the news media” – which, he points out, serve as “an important link to quickly get information out to the local community.” 

Today, fortunately, most U.S. ports have in place, and have exercised, fairly comprehensive response plans that define the roles and capabilities of all of the agencies likely to work with one another in a large-scale incident in and/or affecting the port, but it is still important for the surrounding communities to continue to be involved in planning and training for any future incidents that might occur.

Corey Ranslem

Corey D. Ranslem, chief executive officer of Secure Waters Security Group Inc. – a maritime-security and consulting firm heavily involved in maritime training, maritime security, and a broad spectrum of other security programs in the maritime field – is the former regional manager of Federal Government Operations for Smiths Detection. He has received numerous awards and citations from the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies and organizations active in the field of maritime security. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Political Science from the University of Northern Iowa and an MBA in International Business from Georgetown University; he has almost 18 years of experience in maritime law enforcement and security.



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