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Protecting Ports Of Entry From Terrorism

By ELISABETH ROMAN of Caribbean Business

July 21, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

To prevent, deter, and protect are the goals of state and federal agencies dealing with homeland security. While this is a difficult task, considering the growing sophistication of terrorism organizations such as Al Qaeda, It is reassuring to learn these agencies are seriously addressing the issue of Puerto Rico’s security.

The Al Qaeda network has demonstrated to the world that no one is safe from a potential terrorist attack. Their attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, and the strikes on London’s public transportation system just two weeks ago prove anything and anyone can become a target for terrorism.

After Sept. 11, federal government-security agencies turned their efforts into making air travel safe. While many of the increased-security measures caused inconveniences to travelers, these measures have been widely accepted and passengers seem reassured the events of the World Trade Center, where thousands died, won’t be repeated.

Now, terrorism experts on the U.S. mainland have come to believe Al Qaeda isn’t just seeking to cause death and destruction within the U.S., but also to cripple the nation economically by targeting or appearing to target the nation’s economic lifeline: its trade.

If the Al Qaeda network is as sophisticated as it has proven to be, making its moves globally and virtually unseen, the terrorist organization may have noticed by now the vulnerability of the U.S. economy to the disruption of cargo movement by sea or land. The problem is further aggravated because governments haven’t viewed maritime port security in the same manner they have perceived airport security.

Every day, over 15 million containers are transported worldwide by sea or over land, or are standing in yards waiting to be delivered, and account for about 90% of the world’s traded cargo. As one of the largest ports in the U.S., the Port of San Juan handled 800,000 containers of cargo in 2004. Yet, while containers have revolutionized the shipping industry, they also can be used easily for the illegal transport of people and materials.

We can’t ignore the fact that the Port of San Juan is a major U.S. port and, as such, can become a target of terrorist organizations seeking to harm the nation and its economy. To protect the Port of San Juan and others throughout Puerto Rico, greater investment in security and the screening of containers is required. At the moment, inspectors examine only a reduced number of containers, and often only after the containers have reached our ports after having sailed thousands of miles. While increased screening measures could place an additional burden on the shipping industry, state and federal officials can’t wait until security is breached and lives are lost before they react.

Puerto Rico Ports Authority Director Fernando Bonilla is counting on a sophisticated surveillance-camera system currently being installed around the perimeter of the San Juan Harbor to deter and protect from any terrorist attack. The $6 million system is almost 70% installed and involves 156 cameras positioned at strategic points around the harbor, 20 of the cameras with infrared night vision.

As the tragic events two weeks ago in London demonstrated, however, cameras alone aren’t enough to deter terrorists. There currently are plenty of security measures that also can be considered, from X-ray machines in container terminals to technology that can detect if a container was opened in transit and transmit the information to security personnel before the ship reaches our ports and harbors.

Just how safe the ports and airports in Puerto Rico are still is difficult to say. With proper training, personnel, and the new technology available, federal and state agencies are seeking to make Puerto Rico impenetrable to terrorism. While the terrorists attacks on the U.S. mainland, Madrid, and London have proven there really is no such thing as being 100% safe from terrorism, Customs Border Patrol and Port Authority officials say they are working hard to prevent just such an attack in Puerto Rico.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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