Port of L.A. calls for improved communication structure

Tue, 10/19/2010

Leischen Stelter

Rather than follow hierarchical communication methods, we ensure that all stakeholders have immediate access to raw data

Collecting and managing information at the busiest container ports in the world and disseminating that information to all the critical stakeholders is far from simple, but the process can be simplified, said Captain Don Farrell of the Los Angeles Port Police.

Farrell sat down with Security Director News at ASIS International Seminar & Exhibits on Oct. 12 to discuss the challenges of securing the Port of L.A. and the port’s unique approach to ensuring all its stakeholders have access to raw, uninterpreted critical information.

First of all, he said, protecting the port starts with a commitment to technology and a considerable effort to ensure disparate technologies work together to give the central command post accurate and timely information.

“We have committed to increasing our technology and how we gather information, but also how we distribute it,” Farrell said. The port has committed heavily to video surveillance, he said, but also has numerous other systems in place such as access control systems and radar. And the integration of all these systems has been imperative.  “Everything is taken into our Port Police Operations Center and we’ve integrated the video through Verint’s Nextiva software and incorporated RealityMobile’s RealityVision video management system that allows the Verint imagery to be pushed down to a smartphone to our individual officers or to their car or in-boat mobile computers,” he said.

But it’s not just important to get that information to its police force, there are a large number of agencies involved in security efforts and emergency response. “The Port of L.A. is a landlord port, so we’ve got 27 different terminal operators and each one has their own security mechanisms and force and are responsible for their piece of the port,” he said. “This creates not only response challenges, but technological challenges when you’re trying to get situational awareness information out to all those stakeholders.”

The way in which the port distributes information is absolutely critical to response. “The Port of L.A. designed the system so it allows for a push/pull architecture,” he said. “Rather than follow hierarchical communication methods, we ensure that all stakeholders have immediate access to raw data.” Farrell explained that information often flows up the command chain like “argyle socks” with interconnected diamonds and cross communication channels that can become complex, especially during an incident that involves multiple attacks such as the bombing of London’s public transit system.

Instead, the Port of L.A. gives every stakeholder the same information. “We’ve designed the system so it allows everyone access to raw data set, uninterpreted–the same video, same maps, same response plan, same situational awareness data set–so they can make their own interpretations of data without it being colored,” he said. This approach is critical, he said, because different agencies interpret the same information in different ways.

Agencies can also contribute to response efforts by adding information they have, which will go back into the information pool and be available to other stakeholders.

“The National Incident Management System has provided responders and stakeholders with a framework to operate when an incident happens, but what’s needed now is to address the layer above the command post,” he said. “Right now there’s nothing above the unified command level to help us manage that situational awareness information flow.”