At the center, analysts review and record data, and maintain records on suspicious activity each day. That information, along with maps, building configurations and traffic movement, is made available to every city, state and federal agency responding to an incident. Scheibe notes the fusion center operates daily and can gear up to full capacity in about an hour when necessary.Protecting the land and the sea
As the world's 10th largest seaport, Houston handles more foreign waterborne tonnage than any other U.S. port. The 52-mile Houston Ship Channel, serving the nation's fourth largest city, contains the world's second largest petrochemical complex. Along the length of waterway winding from Galveston to within 8 miles of downtown Houston, exist public and private entities moving all classes of cargo including petroleum, liquid natural gas, grain, industrial products, chemicals, food, textiles, electronics and automotive products. Ninety-five percent of all container cargo that moves through Texas is handled at this port's container terminal. All major rail and trucking lines converge at the port to transport goods to more than 30 million people living within 500 miles of Houston. A new container terminal and passenger cruise ship terminal are being built, which will nearly triple the capacity of both.
Providing security from terrorist attacks as well as natural disasters is a daunting task in this target-rich environment. One significant change since the September 11 attacks has been in information sharing between port-based agencies.
The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for the vessels entering the channel. They check the ship's registry and conduct safety inspections. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is responsible for the contents of the cargo. They match manifests with visual confirmation. The Port of Houston Authority responds to all waterborne and waterfront emergencies. This includes fires, explosions and any incident that would interfere with the flow of ship channel traffic. It also maintains its fireboats and land-based stations for an immediate 24/7 response, beginning from the Turning Basin to the Bayport Terminal.
"Before 9/11, each agency was concerned with our own security within the port — there wasn't much sharing of information," says Wade Battles, managing director of the Port of Houston Authority. "In fact, most of it was kept secret from other entities. Now we realize what happens next door could have significant consequences on all of us, so sharing intelligence has become necessary and is welcome."
According to Battles, the Port of Houston has always been safe; but considering the heightened threat levels since 9/11, he has taken a three-step approach to enhancing and maintaining security at a higher level. "First we hardened the perimeter; we then increased intelligence and information sharing, and finally we strengthened our relationships with law enforcement in the surrounding communities to achieve appropriate responses to threats and incidents," he explains.
Hardening the perimeter meant installing additional physical barriers including limiting vehicle access to certain parts of the port. Pressure-sensitive fencing, concrete barricades and motion detectors are just some of the security devices that have been added. Port vehicle entrances also are monitored with cameras, identification is checked and license plate numbers are recorded.
Sharing information and intelligence reports about suspicious activity in and around the port, including access roads, bridges and tunnels, are standard procedures. Background checks for personnel and companies delivering goods to the port also occur.
Finally, regular meetings are held to discuss security with all public and private interests along the channel. The discussions are essential in developing response, shutdown and recovery procedures with first responders should an incident occur. Additionally, drills are conducted to ensure the coordination of all emergency personnel.
Designated as eligible for significant funding from DHS Port Security Grants, the Port of Houston developed a strategic partnership, which took an act of the Texas legislature to achieve.