Model for Others?
Houston officials say they are fielding inquiries from other ports—particularly in the Gulf region—eager to duplicate the model they are pursuing. Tom Robison, a former DHS transportation infrastructure official and now a vice president with ABS Group, who has worked with the Port of Houston, says the management district approach will prove a national model.
DHS recently opened the application process for PSGP funding to ports the agency classifies as Tier II, like Norfolk International Terminal in Virginia, beneath Tier I facilities like Houston’s. That will increase the number of ports looking for ways to find matching funds.
Ed Merkle, director of port security and emergency operations for the Virginia Port Authority, which oversees Norfolk and three other facilities, is currently preparing for the grant application process. Merkle faces the same challenges with regard to matching funds, long-term maintenance of equipment, and the private sector’s willingness to chip in. But he also anticipates resistance to a management district. Taxation is a “nonstarter” in Virginia, he says.
Robison, however, says other ports are considering the model, at least as an eventual option, among them leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sidonie Sansom, director of homeland security for the port of San Francisco, says, “It’s definitely a model that we’ll be looking at when we get to that point.”
What It Takes
Pat Bellamy, who chairs the HSC-SC, attributes his region’s role as a leader in public-private collaboration in part to culture. Even before 9-11, the Houston area’s business and public-safety sectors operated in a culture of face-to-face cooperation, he says. Public-private partnerships back then grew from the ever-present threat of industrial accidents in the area’s refining sector and the yearly threat of natural disasters posed by hurricanes.
Seitz says that private operators looking to innovate, improve security, ensure good management, and maximize return must do what operators in Houston have done: Align in a formal association like EHCMA to pool their collective assets, cooperate among themselves, and ensure that government understands their needs.
Government is willing to work with industry as well, says Bellamy. “A lot of it is relationships, and I think a lot of the innovations evolve from that.”
Joe Straw is an assistant editor at Security Management.