Port of Miami relies on IP for security and business

The 'controlled chaos' of cargo and cruise ship traffic requires extensive technology deployments
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Transitioning to an IP network isn’t just beneficial for managing security devices, it’s also critical to managing all the business functions for an organization. Presenting at TechSec Solutions, Louis Noriega, chief information systems for the Port of Miami, told attendees that it is especially critical to make processes and procedures as efficient as possible particularly in a port environment, which must balance heavy cargo traffic as well as large numbers of cruise ship passengers.

IT has been critical to the operation of the two-mile island where the port is located, he said. Because of the geographic limitations, processes have to be efficient. But it’s been a long road to get the port upgraded to an IP network.

“When I joined the port in 1998, to my shock, they had a 15-year old accounts receivable system and the rest of the business processes were done manually on paper,” recalled Noriega. Now, all of the business functions and the majority of the security procedures are all done automatically. But getting to that point wasn’t fast or cheap.

It cost approximately $4 million to upgrade the port’s cargo gate system to an automatic, IP-driven system. Currently, the entrance gate where millions of tons of cargo enters the port, is completely self-automated and remotely controlled and there are no port personnel present at the gate. Truck drivers enter their information into a security kiosk and the security system captures information about the truck, such as the container and chassis number as well as the license plate. It also takes a picture of the door of the truck cab to make sure the company on the door has been vetted and the company has been approved to enter the port.

Operators in a central operating center verify the information the trucker is entering about the cargo and compares the photograph of the driver with the person in the truck. As the truck enters the port the system also automatically weighs the truck and charges the truck company the appropriate fees. The automation of the system has improved processing time to an average of one minute and 19 seconds, said Noriega.

The Port of Miami isn’t just a major cargo hub, it is also known as the cruise ship capital of the world. The port has five parking garages and two surface parking areas and needs to monitor passengers entering and exiting the cruise terminal.

“Parking is mission critical for us,” he said. When cruise ships are in the port, which is constantly, the environment equates to “controlled chaos,” Noriega said. “There are 5,000 passengers getting off ships in the morning and 5,000 getting back on before 4 p.m.” In that short eight-hour time frame, personnel must take all the garbage off the ship and restock the ship with new provisions. Additionally, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection must inspect those provisions with K9 units to ensure nothing dangerous or illegal is being loaded on the ship. 

Keeping an eye on all this activity requires an extensive video surveillance system. The port currently has about 750 cameras throughout the port, 450 of which are analog cameras that have been converted to IP using encoders. Converting these cameras was challenging because they had to keep the old system up and running and couldn’t allow any cameras to go down, said Marc Whalen, regional sales manager, security division for NICE Systems, which provided the software platform for the port. “Every camera they have up is mission critical,” said Whalen. The port is also using NICEVision, which allows approximately 200 users Web access to approved camera views.

The port is also in the process of moving to a new $7 million command and control center. It will be able to view video footage and other sensors from a central video wall. The port is also in the process of deploying a license plate reader system to alert operators if an unapproved vehicle enters a restricted area. In addition, the port is also installing a mass notification system. “We’re spending $3 million to have speakers put in throughout the port and we’re integrating with intercoms in our cruise terminals and parking lots so we can notify people if areas of the island need to be evacuated,” he said.