Hawai‘i Congressman Ed Case says a comprehensive bill approved by the U.S. House last week provides long-overdue tightening of security at the nation’s ports and authorizes $7.4 billion in federal funding for fiscal years 2007 through 2012 to fund port security across the United States.
“This bill is especially vital to Hawai‘i because of our reliance on ocean shipping and the potentially catastrophic effects an act of terrorism at our harbors could have on our economy,” said Case, a member of the U.S. House Port Security Caucus, in a press release . “The Security and Accountability For Every Port Act (SAFE Port Act), which I cosponsored and which passed the House yesterday on a vote of 421-2, will direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a strategy for cargo and maritime security and a plan for the resumption of trade in the event of an attack. The plan will coordinate federal, state, local agencies, the private sector, law enforcement and appropriate overseas entities in planning for and responding to acts of terrorism.”
Maritime vessels are the primary mode of transportation for international trade, transporting more than over 80 percent of international trade by volume. In 2004, maritime vessels carried approximately 9,700,000 shipping containers into United States seaports at an average of 27,000 containers per day.
In May 2002, the Brookings Institution estimated that costs associated with United States port closures from a detonated terrorist weapon could add up to $1 trillion from the resulting economic slump and changes to America’s inability to trade. Anticipated port closures on the west coast of the United States could cost the United States economy $1 billion per day for the first five days after a terrorist attack.
“This bill will also establish minimum security standards for all cargo containers entering the U.S. and create a dedicated stream of funding for port security grants. And, the bill will establish joint operations centers in the U.S. to ensure a coordinated approach and response in the event of a threat or attack,” said Case in the press release.
The $7.4 billion authorized by the Safeport Act includes $400 million in fiscal years 2007 to 2012 that will go to grants and programs to help U.S. seaports based on risk and need. Other provisions of the House bill call for:
• Unannounced inspections of maritime facilities to verify the effectiveness of each facility’s security plan;
• Issuance of transportation security cards at seaports and a check of individuals with access to seaports against terrorist watch lists;
• Establishment of a network of virtual and physical maritime security command centers at selected U.S. seaports to enhance information sharing and to facilitate daily operations and any response to a security breach;
• Establishment of grant and training programs to help seaports to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism and other emergencies;
• Increasing by at least 200 the number of full-time active duty port of entry inspection officers of the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal years 2007 through 2012;
• Development of a strategic plan to enhance security of the international supply chain;
• Establishment of a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to protect against the transportation and use of a nuclear explosive device or radiological material against the United States.
“Protecting our ports means guarding our economic strength as well. An act of terrorism at any major seaport, whether in the United States or Hong Kong, could strike a crippling blow on both the regional and global economy,” said Case.