The Port of Astoria will soon have eyes powerful enough to read the license plates of cars coming and going on the central waterfront, along with drivers’ faces.
Director of Operations Matt McGrath applied for a security grant for enhanced video surveillance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s homeland security grant program in May. The Port received $285,000 and will add a 25 percent local match of $71,250.
The grant is meant to help the Port be resilient to terrorist acts and maintain operations, but will also help with some more immediate issues, McGrath said.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with theft on piers 1, 2 and 3,” he said. “And a lot of times what happens is we can see there’s a car stealing stuff, but we just cannot see what the license plate is. We sometimes can’t even tell what the make and model is, because our cameras are outdated.”
The grant provides money for more than 30 new security cameras, along with servers to store footage, the equipment to wirelessly transfer footage to the Port’s central office, and new LED lighting at Pier 1 and the East Mooring Basin.
The new cameras will allow the Port to zoom in on license plates of vehicles coming and going on Port property — in some cases close enough for facial recognition, McGrath said. The Port will soon go out to bid for installation of the new technology and begin installation in January, he said.
Commissioner Robert Stevens, a former Coast Guard ship captain and maritime safety and training consultant, said the Port needs to ensure it is regularly monitoring all the video coming in from the new cameras.
Port Executive Director Jim Knight, also a member of the Coast Guard’s Area Maritime Security Committee, said the new equipment is another step in a multiyear process of working with FEMA to strengthen the Port’s security and locking down the relatively open access to its terminals.
The Port has been the recipient of federal grants for security enhancement in the past. In April 2012, it received $2.7 million to purchase the Trident, one of three new vessels on the Lower Columbia River with firefighting capability approved by the Area Maritime Security Committee.
A big impetus behind the push for more security is the Port’s growing involvement in the cruise ship industry. The agency is scheduled to take in more than 40,000 passengers between April and October of next year from nearly 20 ships.
“The Coast Guard’s looking at our Port in a whole new way because of the involvement that we have over the recent years of cruise ships,” Knight said. “The increase of the number of vessels, and now the radical increase of the number of passengers, is going to necessitate that our Port constantly increases our capacity of maintaining secure terminals.”
Access to the Port’s central waterfront is relatively open, especially on piers 2 and 3. The face of Pier 1 is gated off with security when ships are in port.
“There are bad people out there trying to do harm to the United States and to our ports, and ports are one of the highest targets,” Knight said. “While we do not have any immediate threats to the Port of Astoria — we haven’t received anything in the course of the last few years — we cannot be complacent to think that would not happen.”