Protecting the Port of South Louisiana

Using top-of-the-line technology, the Port’s Maritime Security Operations Center ensure that waterways are safe and efficient.

Over 4,400 oceangoing vessels and over 63,000 barges travel through the Port of South Louisiana each year. It is the top-ranked port in the country for import tonnage and total tonnage. With such a high volume of annual business, the work of the port’s Maritime Security Operations Center is more important than ever. Thankfully, its Maritime Security Operations Center makes monitoring maritime traffic easier.

The Maritime Security Operations Center opened in 2013. It was a $1.2 million project funded by the DOTD and a $965,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The center is housed in a 2000 sq. ft building made of steel and concrete. The structure was designed to withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour. State-of-the-art surveillance and communications equipment are kept inside of the building.

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Brian Cox, director of operations for the Port of South Louisiana, said the Maritime Security Operations Center has seven full-time employees and two part-time employees. They monitor cameras for the Globalplex Intermodal Terminal in Reserve and monitor all marine radio traffic within the port’s jurisdiction. They also keep an eye on police, fire and emergency services in St. Charles, St. John and St. James Parishes.

“We’re the eyes and the ears of the Coast Guard within our jurisdiction,” Cox said.

There are two full-time and two part-time police officers permanently assigned to the Port. They are POST certified police officers, but the Port employs them and assigns them their uniforms and vehicles.

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The Port has three emergency response vessels for fire and emergency response. These vessels can take photos and video of any incidents and transmit them to the security center.

In the past, monitoring systems used separate software programs for different tasks, but the Port of South Louisiana’s current program puts it all together in one package. Video, photos and radio transmissions are all bundled together. Previous programs did not interface with each other and made communication between other ports and agencies difficult. One port may have used one kind of software, while another port’s software might not be compatible to the first port’s software. As a result, the old ways were time-consuming and often headache-inducing. However, the new system allows for greater ease of communication between the Port of South Louisiana and neighboring ports.

For an example of how well the new system works, Cox pointed to a small chemical spill that occurred at one of the docks. The port was able to stream live video to the Coast Guard, as well as send them pictures of the event. When spills happen, the port and Coast Guard can use these visuals and combine them with up-to-date information on the river (e.g. latest data on currents) to best judge the speed and impact areas of the spill. If it were a major spill, they can then use this info to make decisions on shutting down water intakes or closing the river itself. They are also able to immediately notify nearby ports in the case of such an emergency. While there has not been a major event affecting multiple ports yet under the new system, Cox said the Port of South Louisiana believes it is better to be safe than sorry.

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“We want to be prepared to manage the worst-case scenario and hope that it never happens,” Cox said.

The Port of South Louisiana also uses AIS (automatic identification system) technology to monitor vessel traffic via transponders. Port employees can see any cargo ship, tugboat or large vessel on the river. In the event of an accident, this technology can be used to go back in time and reconstruct the events leading up to the accident to see who was at fault. This is especially important in cases where a captain does not realize he brushed against a dock and keeps going. Such a scenario may sound implausible to a layperson, but Cox said this can happen if the river is moving fast enough.

The technology all adds up to a safer, stronger Port of South Louisiana.

“It helps streamline our operations and makes us more efficient and effective,” Cox said.

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