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Security at the Pier

Maritime security legislation must consider risk mitigation, consequence reduction, and emergency preparedness.

The Senate continues to consider the Security and Accountability For Every Port Act this week (H.R. 4954). This port security legislation seeks to create regulations for overseeing, preventing, and handling terrorist actions against maritime facilities.

The S.A.F.E. Port Act is an important step forward for American maritime safety. The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) was a catalyst for action after September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, its priorities wrongly assumed that all ports, facilities, and vessels are equally vulnerable to attack and therefore need equal security standards and protection.

The Center for American Progress last year urged Congress to consider a risk-based approach to port security. The plan, detailed in New Strategies to Protect America: Safer Ports for a More Secure Economy, takes into account the actual terrorist threat that we face, and concentrates on risks that carry the gravest consequences to our society and economy. This approach can actually achieve more security at a potentially lower cost.

As the Senate continues to debate and amend the S.A.F.E. Port Act this week, we urge them to consider the Center for American Progress’ five-point strategy to security and the economy:

  • Revise Coast Guard maritime facility security regulations to emphasize risk assessments focused on the threat and consequences of a terrorist attack rather than vulnerability;
  • Increase attention to continuity of operations to enable the maritime transportation security system to recover quickly in the event of a terrorist attack, reducing the economic consequences of a severe disruption, thereby denying attackers their central strategic goal;
  • Maintain the existing Port Security Grant Program with annual funding of $500 million per year, compared with the current level of $150 million. This can be achieved through the establishment of a national port security trust fund by dedicating a specific percentage of customs revenue collected on goods flowing through our nation’s ports.
  • Introduce better technology, including radiation detection, global positioning and scanning of smart shipping containers, at the world’s leading ports to prevent the nightmare scenario – a nuclear bomb in a box.
  • Require all companies involved in global trade to join the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program and strengthen enforcement of supply chains through no-notice Customs inspections and annual third-party security audits.

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