Aucoin: Port pushes for safety at all turns

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The protection of assets along the Mississippi River is of critical importance to the Port of South Louisiana (PSL).

PSL’s Marine Operations Department has the planning and training to mitigate, prevent, prepare and respond to an emergency within PSL’s jurisdiction that includes St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes.

Working alongside all local, state and federal agencies to help ensure safe passage within the district, PSL has added an extra layer of security by contracting local law enforcement. The comprehensive operations team — captains, firefighters, deckhands, security officers and law enforcement officers — benefits PSL and the River Parishes community.

Accordingly, PSL strives to enhance security and service via federal funding as it becomes available and through partnerships within the district.

PSL’s marine operations emergency response division is ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its four emergency response vessels (the John James Charles, the PSV Accardo, the PSL Responder and the M/V Nathan Folse) are equipped with an array of firefighting/safety equipment and state-of-the-art communications and surveillance equipment that allows the team to be in constant communication with the Maritime Security Operations Center (MSOC).

With vessel docks in St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes, the crews are prepared to respond to any maritime security and/or firefighting mission throughout the PSL’s district and to support federal, state and local agencies throughout the lower Mississippi River. In fact, PSL’s Marine Operations division was recognized in August for the support it provides the U.S. Coast Guard during incidents ranging from search and rescue to checking fleets during high water events.

After Hurricane Katrina, PSL joined forces with the four other lower Mississippi River deep water ports (Greater Baton Rouge, New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines) to establish a security network throughout the lower 255 miles of the Mississippi River, a port complex that handles nearly half of U.S. exports and one quarter of the nation’s petroleum imports.

The goal of the Lower Mississippi River Port-Wide Strategic Security Council (LMRPWSSC) is to protect current and future facilities, insure trade and make this corridor the safest and most protected maritime complex in the world.

To meet this goal, the LMRPWSSC continuously seeks funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (USDHS) Port Security Grant Program and other state matching funds to secure the necessary equipment and training to establish a cohesive security layer with common practices and equipment across these ports.

Since its inception, the LMRPWSSC has secured $130 million from USDHS for the five lower Mississippi River ports and private stakeholders, $12 million of which was awarded to PSL.

Using this USDHS funding, linked MSOCs were established at the five ports, which created a network system that gives full maritime domain awareness over the Mississippi River and allows operations to migrate from one MSOC to another with minimal interruptions in security. PSL’s MSOC, a $1.2 million center financed in part by $965,000 in USDHS grants, is located at Globalplex Intermodal Terminal.

In 2008, in an effort to enhance landside security, PSL entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Sheriff’s departments of the three River Parishes. Under this agreement, PSL contracts police officers to patrol PSL assets, including the Mississippi River levees and installations such as Globalplex Intermodal Terminal and the Executive Regional Airport in Reserve.

PSL later entered into an agreement with St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office to procure a narcotics detection K9 and, subsequently, a patrol/explosives K9. Both dogs are available to either agency at any time at any location within the PSL’s jurisdiction.

PSL also has its own security division, which is manned 24/7. Stationed at the entrance to Globalplex Intermodal Terminal, security is responsible for processing trucking shipments in and out of the facility and vetting any incoming visitors. They also make frequently scheduled rounds of PSL properties and the surrounding areas, which supplements law enforcement’s efforts.

Security personnel posted at the MSOC manage all emergency calls, such as burglar and fire alarms on PSL assets, and dispatch security and police officers to respond. They handle daily radio activity between marine operations, security, levee district officers and local law enforcement, as well as dispatch marine operations to emergency calls.

The accomplishments of Port of South Louisiana’s marine operations and security divisions are a direct result of the leadership and advisement of Director of Operations Mitch Smith, who has been at the helm of this department since 1990. Mitch recently retired, and we are sad to see him leave but are ever so thankful for his service to the Port of South Louisiana for the last 26 years and wish him nothing but success in his future endeavors.

Hereinafter, PSL will continue to coordinate future enhancements of security surveillance, threat detection and emergency preparedness, including development and application of standards for maritime personnel, credentials and access control, surveillance systems and information sharing protocols.

Paul Aucoin is executive director of the Port of South Louisiana. For more information, call 985-652-9278.