Port Security

Two agencies under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are primarily responsible for port security: the U.S. Coast Guard for offshore and waterside security, and the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for landside security.  While these federal agencies have primary responsibility for maintaining security, local law enforcement and everyone who works in and around the ports play a role in keeping us safe. 

Cargo Security 

More than 11 million cargo containers arrive on ships and are offloaded at U.S. seaports every year.  CBP uses risk-based analysis and intelligence to pre-screen, assess and examine all suspicious containers.  Pre-screening begins overseas: Twenty-four hours in advance, shipping companies are required to provide manifest data for all cargo containers destined for the United States.  One-hundred percent of this data is transmitted to the U.S. National Targeting Center Cargo for screening to identify high-risk cargo.  The remaining cargo is cleared for entry to the United States using advanced inspection technology.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, CBP created the Container Security Initiative (CSI), whose primary purpose is to protect the global trading system and trade lanes between international ports that cooperate with CSI and the United States.  CSI uses a security regime to ensure that all containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism are identified and inspected at foreign ports before they are placed on vessels destined for the United States.  The process does not delay the flow of goods through ports because cargo typically sits on the pier for several days before it is exported. 

The 9/11 terrorist attacks also spurred the Coast Guard to expand its port security activities through the Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS) mission.  PWCS focuses on protecting the U.S. Maritime Domain and the U.S. Marine Transportation System.  It also plays a key role in fighting the influx of illegal drugs, a major U.S. maritime-security problem.  The Coast Guard patrols the long coastlines of the United States and the even greater expanse of waters encompassing the maritime transit zones’ six-million-square-mile area roughly the size of the continental United States itself.

Port Facility Security

Port facilities across the nation are required to submit a security assessment and a security plan to the Coast Guard. The submitted assessments identify aspects of each port facility that are deemed security vulnerabilities.  Subsequently, the Coast Guard examines the vulnerabilities of the port complexes as a whole and, working in conjunction with the local stakeholders, develops security plans that detail how combined resources will be used to deter, prevent and respond to terror threats.

The Coast Guard oversees the ongoing implementation of these security measures. Each plan is different and uniquely tailored to the individual port. Some of the specific security measures currently being implemented include:

  • Increased identification checks on crew members and visitors to the ports;
  • Additional canine detection teams;
  • Expanded baggage and passenger screening efforts;
  • Strategically placed perimeter fencing equipped with newly installed surveillance cameras;
  • Targeted restricted access to sensitive areas of the port;
  •  X-ray machines on all large cruise ships;
  • Additional employee training procedures; increased security patrols; and
  • Implementation of a robust certification program to ensure foreign flagged vessels docking in U.S. ports have met the international security requirements, which the United States originally proposed to the international community in November 2001.