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Politics

Port Security 'Inadequate' a Decade After 9/11

September 6, 2011 - 6:00pm

A decade after 9/11, more needs to be done to improve the screening process at Floridas airports and seaports, the commissioner of agriculture said Wednesday.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called the current level of cargo and passenger screening fairly inadequate, during a sit down with the media in the Capitol.

You definitely (have) seen a ramp up in resources and attention to that, but it continues to be a challenge because of the enormity of global trade flows, he said.

Putnam praised the Department of Homeland Security for combining screening and inspections under one agency.

Now, you dont have one agency looking for contraband, one looking for weapons, one looking for drugs, one looking for things they didnt pay customs on, one thats a plant pest or disease that is going to threaten agriculture, he said.

But for a state with 14 seaports, 12 international airports and 1,800 miles of coastline, more needs to be done, Putnam said.

We constantly struggle to do better risk assessment, to get better manifests ahead of time to target where the resources go to the most likely source of the problem, Putnam said.

That continues to be a real problem. Its a problem from an economic threat standpoint and its a problem from an agra-terror or biological terror standpoint, when you look at things like anthrax and H1N1, where you have a transmission of animal diseases into a public health threat, either by accident or by design, he said.

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on Putnams statement.

However, a Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman said the checkpoint screening most people see is only one layer of the departments strategy.

Each one of these layers alone is capable of stopping a terrorist attack, TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said. In combination, their security value is multiplied, creating a much stronger, formidable system.A terrorist who has to overcome multiple security layers in order to carry out an attack is more likely to be pre-empted, deterred, or to fail during the attempt.

Among the steps undertaken by Homeland Security, Koshetz noted:

  • Intelligence gathered by multiple U.S. agencies that is analyzed, shared, and applied.
  • Checking passenger manifests against watch lists.
  • Training officers to be behavior detection officers and travel document checkers.
  • Hiring bomb appraisal experts.
  • Securing flights withfederal air marshals and federal flight deck officers.
  • Training specialized explosive detection canine teams.
  • Initiating Visible Intermodal Protection and Response Teams.
  • Screening of all cargo on passenger flights.
  • Implementing many more security measures both visible and invisible to the public.?

Earlier this year, Florida legislators eliminated state security measures that duplicated federal security regulations at the states seaports.

The action was also taken to improve commerce at the ports.

The bill, introduced in the Senate by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, and in the House by freshman state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, eliminates the need for a state security card known as TWIC, which was implemented in 2000, shortly before the federal seaport regulations that came about in the aftermath of 9/11 that rendered those security measures redundant. Supporters maintain the new law will save businesses that deal with the ports $3 million each year.

Florida's ports are seen as vital to sparking the state's exports and, by extension, its economy. Gov. Rick Scott pushed for $77 million to be used to make improvements to the Port of Miami to attract larger cargo ships that will be coming through the Panama Canal after it is widened in 2014.

The law won the backing of several business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce which had the bill as one of its chief priorities during the 2011 legislative session. The chamber maintained the additional security measures put Florida at a disadvantage in attracting shipping companies compared to other states.

Workers in Florida ports will see their fees reduced, which can run as much as $130 for access to each port for criminal background checks.

Businesses, which pay as much as $800 per worker for security costs, will also see reductions in their overhead costs, boosting trade and state exports.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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