Canadian Consulting Engineer

Vancouver’s Wired Port

May 1, 2005
By Jean Sorensen

At the Vancouver Port Authority command centre, director of security Graham Kee and Securiguard site director Dave Loban stand watching 30 real-time monitors banked against a wall. The cameras are tra...

At the Vancouver Port Authority command centre, director of security Graham Kee and Securiguard site director Dave Loban stand watching 30 real-time monitors banked against a wall. The cameras are tracking every truck, vehicle and person on the south side of the waterfront under the jurisdiction of the port authority. Images stream in from 250 cameras mounted on roads, in buildings and on port property.

“Outside of a U.S. military base, I don’t believe there is anything as sophisticated as we are,” says Kee, speaking of the integrated security system the port authority continues to build.

As the wall monitors blink out new images — including those of the city’s two cruise ship terminals — both Kee and Loban say that the recent incident of escaped accused felon Brian Nichols in Atlanta, Georgia caught disappearing into a stairwell on security cameras would not have happened at their port. Not only are their cameras manned 24/7, but the system can be tweaked to identify unusual movements in buildings. Cameras with motion detectors would have tracked Nichols. The system would then have isolated him in the building by remotely locking down that section and at the same time kept the public away.

“We have the ability to control, monitor and record,” says Kee.

The Vancouver Port Authority’s security initiative is even more impressive considering it is a co-operative effort that involves multiple terminals and covers the largest port in Canada. The port authority’s jurisdiction extends over 233 kilometres of coastline, from Burrard Inlet to Roberts Bank on the Canada-U.S. border. A total of 25 major terminals and 65 stakeholders carry out the port’s daily functions. There are 6,500 workers employed in the terminals, in trucking, long-shoring and four rail services within the port area. Vancouver is the summer port for cruise vessels, which make 300 Alaska sailings, collectively embarking over one million passengers. The port ranks number one in Canada in total cargo handled and container throughput. In 2004 it handled more than 73 million metric tonnes and traded with 90 countries around the world.

If this busy commercial life were not complex enough in terms of security, factor in public access considerations for nearby public parks, residences and commercial businesses spined along port property. And, located just a few blocks from central downtown Vancouver are commuter services such as water taxis, heli-pads, and floatplane bases.

To capture the amount of information required to police the waterfront, Kee realized in 2000 that the authority needed an innovative system. “One of the things I had to do was convince the port users that enhanced security would benefit them,” says Kee. After 9/11, it’s estimated that full port security will now cost more than $100 million, with each terminal also paying $250,000 to $2 million to implement internal systems. (The federal government has pledged contributions to the port and terminals over the next five years.)

Kee first had to deal with a long list of concerns. They ranged from the general public using port roads as a short-cut to avoid city traffic, to joggers, cyclists, vandals and opportunity criminals who drifted in from some of the city’s seedier areas that flank the outer reaches of the port property. Prostitution flourished in some areas. Crime inside the port is also known to exist. Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, released reports as late as last year that outlined organized crime in Canadian ports including Vancouver, with the Hells Angels cited as a major concern. Organized criminal activity includes drug trafficking, narco-terrorism (drugs traded for weapons), smuggling cars, and smuggling humans.

When 9/11 hit, it added another dimension — terrorism. Vancouver, with the exception of the cruise terminals, is not seen as a strategic target. However, it is seen as a back door to attack the U.S. through threats concealed in containers. Half the trade entering the U.S. arrives by containers on trucks, by rail or by sea. The Canadian Border Services Agency (formerly Canada Customs) in the Vancouver port was the first to use VACIS mobile gamma ray scanning of containers at terminals. The agency also brought a mobile radiation measuring device into service at the end of 2004.

The intent is to spot and stop any materials or human activity that might lead to a U.S. threat before it reaches its destination. Those who are intent on causing problems infiltrate ports and shipping companies and move unobtrusively. Keen minds exist on both sides.

Securiguard’s Loban says simply: “They have their own intelligence system and we have ours.”

Building the network

Kee initially began building the system in 2000 with the aim of enhancing surveillance on port authority roads along the waterfront near the command centre in Canada Place. He contacted PBA Engineering and asked for a feasibility study to install a fibre optic cable over five kilometres of road running west to the Second Narrows Bridge. PBA is an electrical consulting firm specializing in security, with offices in Vancouver and Victoria.

The potential of the fibre optic cable network soon opened up a range of other surveillance opportunities for the port. The infrastructure was not only able to connect hundreds of cameras, alarms and doors, but also could integrate employee card identification scanners. As the work progressed a vehicle access system was added and the system became even more complex.

“In terms of integration,” says PBA president Peter Boudreau, A.Sc.T., “It is one of the most complex we have ever seen.”

A total of 16 cameras were placed on the roadway near the command centre, and over 200 were sited on port lands, with heavy concentrations placed at the cruise ship terminals.

Kee also decided to extend the fibre optic network to the terminals fringed along the south waterfront. The system is now being extended over the Second Narrows Bridge to the terminals along the north shore.

Under the post-9/11 federal regulations, each terminal is responsible for its own security and potentially could have a different system. Consequently, an accommodating interface system was required. An affiliate PBA company, 360 Surveillance, provided a software integration system known as Cameleon which became a bridge between the VPA and the terminals.

Cameleon is a device control platform that allows authorized users with any type of video equipment to integrate into the Port Authority’s video and data systems (passwords are required). The program has been used by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, among others.

The roadway cameras offer another benefit: capturing traffic congestion. These web-cam images are posted on the port authority’s public internet site. And while each terminal monitors its own security, the bridge interface allows the port authority command centre to take over monitoring in the evening if no-one at the terminal is on duty.

Vehicle Access Control

In mid-2002 PBA was asked to expand the Cameleon system to include a vehicle access control (VAC) system that controls who enters port authority property.

The vehicle access system has three entry points on the port’s south side. Two are truck and vehicle entrances located at Commissioner Street and Clarke Drive, while Heatley remains vehicle-only access. Each entry is equipped with card readers, interview cameras and intercoms to identify incoming individuals.

PBA’s Ian Steele, who has worked on the project since its inception, says one of the major hurdles to overcome was the integration of the cardholders from all the different terminals into one comprehensive system. The port authority overcame this by developing a globally accessible card access system. The terminals still have control over the pass holder’s entry and movements within their terminal, but drivers and
employees do not have to carry multiple passes. At the same time, employees who leave a terminal’s employment can immediately be locked out from gaining access to any port authority property.

At the vehicle access control entries, container trucks are guided by overhead signage into separate lanes. They seem to pass the guard stations unimpeded, but the system monitors the axle configuration and vehicle length and screens and bars entry to non-commercial vehicles.

All other vehicles pass through a monitored guard station, where the driver is required to present a port pass to a card reader. Those not having a pass (such as a taxi, courier, or visitor) connect via intercom to a security guard in the port authority control centre. Driver photo identification is required and viewed via video link. Kee says the system has the ability to zero in on the photo within the identification and then view the driver’s face to ensure a positive match. If anyone should attempt to ram the gate they would be stopped short; a breakaway arm automatically trips a set of tire shredders.

At the terminals

The card reader at each terminal gate has meant another challenge to the integration of systems. Edwards Security Systems was hired to install the physical structure and operational software. While the terminals worked with Edwards to ensure their own in-house security systems, there is a uniform standard to adhere to. The 9/11 attacks caused the United Nations International Marine Organization to require the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code to be implemented by July 1, 2004. The broad security protocol was adopted and implemented through Transport Canada.

The terminals are really microcosms of the port authority system in their security concerns. Cascadia, a grain terminal located by the Second Narrows Bridge is a prime example, although its grain product arrives by rail cars. It is only blocks from the Pacific National Exhibition lands and residential homes. A nearby park is heavily used during summer for picnics and special events, while its outdoor pool attracts summer swimmers. Previously, only a row of tall trees served as a barrier. “At one time all this area used to be open,” says Edwards Systems’ Barry MacDonald, standing outside the now gated driveway and fenced perimeter.

At the Cascadia terminal’s entrance, an employee exits and the gate is slow to close, allowing a vehicle to slip in. MacDonald, watching, is unconcerned as the gate closes behind the vehicle. “They have only accessed the parking area,” he says, pointing out that another gate and fence restricts access to the terminal grounds and finally a third gate must be passed through to gain access to the office area. Any vehicle caught in one of the gated areas without a valid pass would essentially be trapped.

The human factor

As the port authority puts its “wired” catch-net into place, it is not without its weakness. “All the wiring and the CCTVs are impressive, but still the weak link is human,” says Robert Casey Jr., a North Vancouver private security consultant.

The weakness lies in B.C.’s security industry, he feels. Security work is often an entry-level job, with the Justice Institute of B.C. providing minimum training standards for guards. “Training standards for security guards in B.C. do not go far enough,” says Casey, who has watched with interest guards at work along the port wharves. Most he dismisses as “under trained, under equipped, and since there are no physical fitness standards, the guards are too out of shape to do a foot pursuit.”

The port authority has increased the security patrols along the water and on port lands, but more importantly, Kee points out, it has developed a tightly knit community as a result of security initiatives. Partners in Protection (PIP), for example, is a collaborative effort by the port community and Canadian customs officials to share information that might relate to terrorism or criminal activities. Kee and Securiguard’s Loban both agree a beneficial fallout of 9/11 has been that police, government and stakeholders are more willing to share information.

The port authority in addition receives a constant flow of information from the harbour master, shipping companies, coast guard, harbor patrols, and other port users. An in-house web system consolidates information and allows each user to cherry-pick the salient data. In Kee’s case, he receives security reports — one liners — that summarize incidents that have occurred daily within the port land from a variety of sources. Where applicable, the port authority can attach video clips from the CCTV system.

The streamlining of information and its ability to be directed to the right individual is key to a responsive intelligence network dealing with a changing mass of information. The vehicle control system, for example, has taken over 800 vehicles an hour off the port roads. Not only does that yield savings in road maintenance, but there are fewer random vehicles to watch. The port pass system and pass readers ensure that the right 6,500 employees arrive to work on the port lands. “Instead of having to watch everyone,” says Kee, “we now only have to watch a few.”

Jean Sorensen is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.


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