Powering Port Security

Perhaps one of the most critical—and least noticed—supporting roles in the nation’s ongoing defense effort against possible terrorist attacks is being played behind the scenes by the elec-trical contractors who install the security systems in and around our ports and adjacent transportation centers.

Working with constantly evolving equipment, these contractors operate in a new and relatively unfamiliar environment in which the ob-jective is not to make sure something happens the way it’s supposed to but, hopefully, to prevent something undefined from occurring.

Industry sources indicate that since 2001, electrical contracting work in the security sector has grown by as much as 30 percent, but it is difficult to quantify.

“Security installation has increased as everyone has become more attuned to this issue,” said one contractor who asked not to be identified. “On a traditional construction job, there are now a number of security items that weren’t there 10 years ago, and the per-centage of these increases significantly when the work involves ports, governmental entities and multinational corporations.”

Ports and their ancillary rail and vehicular systems are perhaps the most accessible points for potential invasive activity in the post-Sept.11 world, and the largest U.S. harbor complex is Los Angeles-Long Beach, which handles more combined traffic than any other port in North America.

CSI Electrical Contractors Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif., has been installing equipment at both of these San Pedro Bay ports for almost five years, much of its work related to the surveillance of trucking movements in and out of the terminals. The company already was in place and doing this type of work when the new radiation portal monitors (RPMs) came into use in 2005.

“Basically, these devices are a nonintrusive type of radiation monitor,” said Dan Richard, CSI project manager. “The vehicle drives slowly between two large sensors, which scan the container of the truck for any radioactive material.”

If the RPM detects something questionable, the truck is pulled over so U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents can run an-other scanning procedure and, if necessary, open the container for thorough inspection.

One of the more demanding aspects of this type of installation work, Richard said, has to do with the relentless advances in the sophistication of the technology involved.

The RPMs, which were state-of-the-art two years ago, now have been augmented in some locations by the new range of advanced spectroscopic portals (ASPs). Relatively few of these high--sensitivity units have been installed to date, and they have the capability to differentiate levels of radioactivity that the RPMs cannot.

“Certain types of material that aren’t really hazardous can set off some instrumentation,” Richard said, “like high-potassium fruits, such as bananas or avocados, and products like ceramic tile, granite and kitty litter. The ASP equipment can make the distinction in cases like these and avoid time- and cost-consuming, second-tier inspections.”

Another large portion of CSI’s port work has to do with installing surveillance cameras and optical character recognition equipment.

Containerized cargo is tracked meticulously during its transit through the port, requiring an extensive array of electrical and elec-tronic systems. Cameras are constantly shooting pictures of the trucks, drivers, license plates and the serial numbers of the containers. All information is checked instantaneously by computer against the manifest data bank.

“We’ve even installed cameras on the dockside boom cranes that unload the ships,” Richard said. “The cameras automatically shoot the containers from all sides for serial identification, and this goes into the computer, logging what ship the container came from, what truck it went out on and who the driver was.”

But who the drivers—and electricians—are who go in and out of ports daily raises another issue that contractors should be aware of. Whether they are doing security installation or anything else, they need to know about Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).

What is TWIC?

TWIC is a new identification program mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), involving a card that must be car-ried by all personnel requiring access to secure areas within a port. This means that any electrical contractor employees working in such areas of a port must have one of these TWIC cards. Standard cost of the card is $132.50, or a reduced fee of $105.25 if the individual already has a FAST card, MDA or other Coast Guard credentials that are current and with required comparable background checks.

Final date for compliance is set for April 15, 2009, but there are ongoing rolling deadlines for various port jurisdictions leading up to that date. For example, Boston and northern and southeastern New England will need to comply by Oct. 18, 2008.

A question has arisen regarding who should pay for the TWIC cards—the employer or the employee. The government regulations do not stipulate whose responsibility this is. So, to avoid disputes over this issue, electrical contractors should find out when compliance is set for their area and be prepared to deal with the payment issue, which will have to be resolved locally in each case.

Closed-circuit coverage

Meanwhile, another contractor that recently has done fairly extensive security installation work, in this case at the ports of Seattle and Everett, is Major Electric Inc., based in Woodinville, Wash.

In Seattle, the project involved one of the major terminals and consisted of installing nine pan-tilt-zoom cameras on existing 120-foot light poles with a fiber backbone to monitor and control cameras from the central security terminal, according to Rob Maez, fire and security specialist at the company.

Additionally, the firm installed closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras within a storage warehouse, which also is tied into the fiber back-bone for monitoring purposes.

Toward the end of last year, Major Electric also provided a fiber network along with similar cameras on 80-foot light poles at the Port of Everett for video surveillance and additional cameras in the public port area.

The company is awaiting final determination on product and specifications for video surveillance at a barge transfer facility owned by the port of Everett for the transfer of aircraft parts that will then be shuttled by railcar to Boeing’s Everett plant.

Major Electric has seen a growth of about 10 percent in

security-related work over the past few years, and to accommodate it, this business formed a new sector within its existing fire division five years ago. Security now represents approximately 25 percent of the company’s total work.

“We saw this as a significant opportunity and are working to develop this market,” Maez said. “And this is not just work at obvious places like ports. There is also a need for securing hospitals, schools, public transit and utilities.”

Installers and installed

Two developments have taken place in the security market over the past five years: a marked increase in the sophistication of the product installed and the level of expertise on the part of the installers in the field.

“As far as new technologies are concerned, we have seen a lot of movement in the CCTV area,” Maez said. “Cutting-edge cameras are in demand, and customers are demanding equipment like the relatively new Flir camera, which can pick out objects in virtually total darkness. Almost nothing can get past it, no matter whether it is night or in adverse conditions involving fog, snow or rain. And these products are becoming more affordable to end-users.”

On a given security job, depending on the nature and scope of the installation, the crew on-site usually consists of a mix, Maez notes. The company has a number of specialty electricians trained in low-voltage security work with experience in installing various systems, such as card access equipment or CCTV cameras. Generally, these workers are teamed up with regular electricians, since usually there is a comprehensive body of infrastructure that needs to be installed. Typically, about 30 percent of the group consists of low-voltage spe-cialists.

Of critical importance to Major Electric’s competitive position in the security field is the fact that the firm was acquired last year by WPCS International Inc., a company focused on providing wireless infrastructure and specialty communication systems.

Based in Exton, Pa., the firm includes more than a dozen subsidiary design/build engineering and electrical contractor companies in the United States, Australia and China, and Major Electric now has access to WPCS engineering services. Recently, at the Port of Seattle, Major Electric conducted a radio frequency (RF) study using WPCS engineering capabilities in preparation for installation of a custom wireless system.

Back to ‘ground zero’

One contractor firm that has been involved with installations on landside transportation projects in the New York area, in-cluding ground zero itself, is Five Star Electric Corp. in Ozone Park, N.Y.

“The first major job we did in this type of work was providing security cameras as well as the electrical equipment during the re-building of the subway tunnels for the No. 1 and 9 lines running beneath the [World] Trade Center,” said Gary Segal, president of the company. The job, which took place as part of the DHS Electronic Security Systems Integration program took seven months to complete.

Five Star also has been working throughout the city on various Metropolitan Transit Authority projects as a subcontractor with Lock-heed Martin as the prime. This has included work on Hudson and East River bridges and tunnels, part of a four-year job that is 60 percent completed. In addition, the company has installed turnstile equipment at both Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station.

“The sophistication and intricacy of the products we are now installing has advanced considerably,” Segal said. “Security cameras used to be considered hardware, but these panning, tilting and zooming cameras are software-driven devices, some of them even ca-pable of retina scanning for identification from a database.”

He estimates that security components on a typical job have increased about 5 percent over the past five years, tied into lighting, power, fire alarms and telephones, and he said approximately 10 percent of the company’s work is now security-related.

QUINN reports on a broad range of business and industry issues for journals in the United States and Europe. He can be reached by phone at 203.323.9850 or by e-mail at mirabel@snet.net.

About the Author

John Paul Quinn

Freelance Writer
John Paul Quinn reports on a broad range of business and industry issues for journals in the United States and Europe. He can be reached at 203.323.9850 and mirabel@snet.net .

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