Are Alaska ports safe? Sweeping legislation balances need for protection, while keeping commerce flowing.

Author:Geer, David
 
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The Safe Accountability For Every Port Act (SAFE act, 2006)--now a multifaceted sweeping port-security legislation as of October 2006-will impact Alaska ports and customers on many levels.

The object of the SAFE Act is to maintain a "secure state" post-Sept.11, 2001, but not a "security state," providing enhanced border protection while preserving the flow of commerce, according to Mike Milne, press officer, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Alaska jurisdiction.

The new law encompasses several programs and initiatives like:

* The Container Security Initiative through which Customs and Border Patrol agents examine international cargo and identify potential threats before at-risk cargo is loaded on ships headed for U.S. ports like Anchorage, according to Mike Milne, press officer, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Alaska jurisdiction.

* Increasing the number of random searches using the Automated Targeting System, a computerized system that helps the Department of Homeland Security to rate cargo for risk levels.

* A public/private, international voluntary program called the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, which secures the international supply chain and U.S. ports and borders.

* A plan to examine containers entering the U.S. for radiation and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

* The new TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential), which is a biometric identification smartcard designed to provide positive identification for eligible transportation workers needing unescorted access to secure areas of a seaport or vessel.

* WARN (the Warning, Alert and Response Network), which will be a voluntary, national emergency alert system utilizing wireless technologies (eventually replacing the current Emergency Alert System).

* Finally, the legislation requires policies for responding to maritime transportation incidents or disruptions.

The SAFE Act extends many of these initiatives to foreign ports and shippers (as described in this article), with the option to reject shipments at the foreign port if necessary for those that don't comply, according to Milne.

CAUTION OR RISK?

According to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee (chaired by Sen. Ted Stevens, R- Alaska), Container Security Initiative enables Customs and Border Patrol agents to partner with foreign customs services to examine high-risk cargo containers at foreign seaports. The Container Security Initiative "pushes our borders out" to foreign soil where cargo can be examined and accepted or rejected before being loaded on a ship bound for the U.S., according to Milne.

For these examination tasks, Customs and Border Patrol officials are equipped with a 24-hour advance on manifest data, as well as strategic intelligence in order to identify containers that might pose security risks. High-risk containers are screened and...

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