Louisiana Announces ‘Smart Port Initiative’

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a Louisiana ‘smart port initiative’ intended to streamline operations and improve safety through real-time data shared by port administrators, tenants, shippers and providers of warehouse, cargo and ground transportation. Louisiana Economic Development is coordinating the smart port initiative with The Water Institute of the Gulf and the Port of New Orleans.

The Water Institute of the Gulf will guide technical solutions for the project, with the Port of New Orleans providing seed funding and serving as the pilot port for the project. LED is pursuing federal infrastructure funding to complete the project. Gov. Edwards announced the project during a visit by FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor to the Water Campus in Baton Rouge, where the Water Institute is based.

“We’re excited to announce the smart port initiative of LED, the Water Institute of the Gulf, and the Port of New Orleans, which will serve as a model for the future of maritime commerce in Louisiana,” said Edwards. “This project will provide better protection of our ports against threats and disruptions. It also will streamline operations for the port, its tenants and transportation partners. I’m proud of our joint efforts to raise the bar for innovation, emergency management and safety in Louisiana.”

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In the initial smart port phase, the Water Institute of the Gulf will install data sensors on tugboats and other vessels navigating the Port of New Orleans district. Sensors will detect sediment levels in shallow areas of the Mississippi River to promote safety and provide intelligence for future dredging decisions. Through a cooperative endeavor agreement signed Monday, the Port of New Orleans is providing $125,000 to the Water Institute to complete this initial project over a two-month period.

“We want to thank Governor Edwards, Louisiana Economic Development, and The Water Institute of the Gulf for their vision and partnership in making this smart port initiative a reality,” said Port of New Orleans President and CEO Brandy D. Christian. “As Louisiana’s international container port, Port NOLA is honored to participate in this innovative effort that boosts Louisiana’s maritime industry and competitiveness in global commerce. This collaborative endeavor is good news for all the Lower Mississippi River ports that rely on safe and efficient navigation of our working river.”

A second phase will digitally connect container depots, road transporters, dock terminals, shipping lines, warehouses and cargo operators to coordinate the port’s supply chain. While this smart port phase will create a unified digital command at the New Orleans port and on the Water Campus, the project envisions the model being applied to ports across the state in the future. Louisiana Economic Development is pursuing federal funds to advance this second phase of the project.

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“Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi River ports make up the most significant maritime complex in the world,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “Beginning with New Orleans, we plan to make our ports safer and more efficient through a digitally connected infrastructure. Smart ports mean more efficient operations for all businesses, and they also provide security against virtual and physical threats. With the Water Institute’s expertise, we can design a smarter infrastructure that befits our world-class port system.”

The pilot program phases with the Port of New Orleans will pave the way for technologically enhanced protection of Louisiana’s commerce, rivers and coastal habitats.

“Through this collaboration, we will develop innovative ways to help the Port of New Orleans operate even more effectively,” said Justin Ehrenwerth, the Water Institute president and CEO. “Dynamic water levels, sedimentation, and reduced visibility are major challenges for ports all along the Mississippi River and beyond. Leveraging existing technology and developing new predictive tools will allow us to address some of the most pressing challenges of today while anticipating those of tomorrow.” 

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The smart port initiative provides a foundation for future Water Campus expansion, including the planned Hurricane and Flood Risk Center that would provide support to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Louisiana National Guard and other emergency management partners. That risk center, in a third phase of the smart port initiative, would model data to enhance preparation for, and response to, coastal and inland flooding events.

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