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Homeland Security

US Port Security Technology Evolving

September 29, 2011

Elizabeth Lee | Los Angeles

Millions of containers from around the world enter ports throughout the United States every year. The threat to U.S. national security at these ports have grown in the last decade and so has security. At a recent technology conference near Los Angeles, companies were able to show off their latest inventions in high tech security.

At two of the busiest ports in the United States, thousands of containers come and go every day.

John Holmes with the Port of Los Angeles says ten years ago security around here was not a priority.

"Not even fences or lights or signs," said Holmes. "It was just [a] very open atmosphere where the big focus was moving cargo through."

But everything changed after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. U.S. ports have become a potential target because most of the goods that come into the U.S. come by the ocean.

"Every single container does get screened. Everything that comes off the ship goes through radiation detection equipment," added Holmes.

The port of Los Angeles have different high tech devices that look for bombs, chemical and biological weapons.

Michael McMullen with the Port of Long Beach says technology is a big component of security.

"Most of the security that we do today is really done almost in a virtual state," McMullen noted.

McMullen says there are underwater sonar sensors, high tech radars that detect every ship within 11 kilometers of the port and hundreds of cameras above ground. In a room filled with computers and video monitors of all sizes, security analysts can track everything that goes on in and around the port complex. The port has shared the technology with personnel from Latin America and Asia so they can learn how these high tech systems are integrated and apply them to their own port security.

"Ports may all be a little bit different, but what we're trying to do is very similar," Holmes explained.

To share information, John Holmes says the Port Los Angeles held a port security summit last year with countries that included China, Korea and Israel. Holmes says ports around the world are vulnerable, using the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India as an example.

"In Mumbai, the attacks actually came from the water," Holmes added.

Security experts say exchanging information will help them stay current with all the new high tech devices on the market. At a technology conference near Los Angeles, Fred Aldrich is trying to sell a container scanning system. It would go on a ship and scan stacks of containers before they reach land.

"Our system would be installed at the foreign ports and scanning and detection happens 24/7 autonomously," said Aldrich.

Craig Crawford with 3-D Image Tek, is trying to find buyers for his machine that converts video from 2-D to 3-D. He says 3-D images provide depth and detail. He says it can be used for night surveillance or even to diffuse a bomb.

"It actually puts human eyes right on the threat then they can manipulate it just like a surgeon would be during a surgery looking at the wires identifying the threat," said Crawford.

Port of Long Beach's Michael McMullen says in the next two years, he expects 3-D technology to be one component of security at his port that will help improve communication by providing even more detailed information.

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