Published 1 November 2006

Listening to the heated debates in Congress over whether or not to impose 100 percent inspection mandate on U.S.-bound freight containers, one would think that container safety is the only port security issue countries face. It is good to see that some experts insist that there is more to port security than container monitoring.

The focus on container scanning ignores the more basic fact that ports themselves are complex systems — and as is the case with all complex systems, they are vulnerable to attacks using simple weapons coupled with imagination (what we call “high concept, low tech” attacks, as was the case on 9/11: Using box cutters to make a jumbo jet into a weapon) . Since ports

are vital to the global economy, an attack that disrupts port traffic —

even for a few days or weeks — could significantly affect the domestic and

global economy.

The more expansive and inclusive view of port security also opens more opportunities for businesses to address the real but so far negkected threats to ports.

Researchers and faculty at Stevens Institute of Technology, the

engineering and science university, are taking a broad approach to port

security — looking at the full spectrum of vulnerabilities in the Port of

New York and New Jersey, one of the largest and most complex ports in the

world. They are designing systems and approaches that promise higher levels

of protection to the port as a whole. They are available to discuss

critical port security needs and potential solutions, including:

* Understanding the “urban ocean”: It’s well known that weather systems

can play a role in the spread of chemical and biological weapons.

What’s less well known is that the waters in urban ports generate their

own complex “weather” systems, driven by the collision of fresh and salt

water, intricate tides and currents, variations in water temperature,

clarity and salinity, and the way the water interacts with the

surrounding cities and port facilities. By studying how the urban

waters behave, researchers are learning about natural vulnerabilities

and how to overcome them.

* Using sensors, underwater and above it: As every Tom Clancy reader

knows, the way to detect something underwater is by sound. That’s much

harder in the urban environment than in the open ocean, because all the

interactions of water with water (at different temperatures, levels of

salt content, and levels of clarity) and water with land (sounds created

by waves hitting seawalls, and urban environmental sounds like trucks

and airplanes) make it extremely hard to hear small things — such as

swimmers or boats. To create a more effective listening system — and

to gather information about the overall behavior of the tides and

currents in the harbor — researchers at Stevens’ Center for Maritime

Systems have deployed innovative sensor arrays. They are also working

on the use of sensors above the water — for example, cameras.