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Port Security: Process and Evaluation Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 9th, 2020


Port security is a growing concern provided that maritime zones and ports play an essential role in nowadays’ commerce and transportation. Current approaches to managing port security in the United States are controlled by governmental and non-governmental organizations that try to ensure safety through various programs. There are 361 ports in the country, the operation of which is controlled by various organizations (Williams, 2015).

Among the key government organizations, one may note the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection that issue policies and regulations regarding vessels, employees, and the port environment as well as to conduct surveys on their compliance with requirements. The American Association of Port Authorities and Ingersoll-Rand are non-government organizations that target the development and maintenance of direct actions that are performed to eliminate any threats.

This paper will analyze the recent scholarly literature and official resources to understand the responsibilities and roles of both governmental and non-governmental US organizations in ensuring port security. It is expected that the literature review method will allow revealing current trends and gaps, which will be thoroughly examined. The analysis of findings will be based on Creswell’s three-step based model, including data reduction, display, and concluding.

As a result, several relevant recommendations will be formulated about potential options in improving existing port security efforts. This topic is important to study as it aims at a better understanding of how the mentioned organizations ensure port security and whether there any gaps and needs. It is possible to hypothesize that the research would discover the prevailing regulatory role of government organizations with responsibility regarding policies and overall control, and supporting roles with specific area-related responsibility of non-government organizations. The research question is what are the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. government and non-government organizations involved in port security.

Literature Review

U.S. Governmental Organizations and Their Roles

Port security in the US is a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal cabinet that pursues such missions as border control, immigration, anti-terrorism, disaster prevention, and cybersecurity. One of the key roles in port security is taken by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) that has a maritime law enforcement mission and serves as a branch of the United States Armed Forces (Williams, 2015).

At the same time, it acts as a federal regulatory agency and focuses on maritime safety, security, and stewardship. Another governmental organization is the United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) – the primary border control organization that is responsible for trade, immigration, and customs. USCBP involves more than 58,000 workers who specialize in various areas such as examining passengers, borders, and vessels (Zhao, Yan, & Zhang, 2017). One of the main responsibilities of the above organization is the early detection and apprehension of terrorism.

The paramount responsibility of USCBP is to create such an environment in which trade and transportation may be performed with a high assurance of operating without any threats. According to Leonard, Gallo, and Véronneau (2015), the organization strives to make sure that criminal and terroristic activity would not exploit ports. The programs targeting prevention, detection, and reduction are elaborated by applying proactive initiatives in collaboration with non-governmental companies that are present in ports.

Also, USCBP takes into account the development of assessing tools to identify the extent of one or another threat and select response measures accordingly. In this connection, the idea of preparedness is put based on employee training, awareness increase, and exercising security programs.

The importance of maritime security is caused by increased terrorist attacks and piracy encountered by the US in the 21st century. In response to such threats, USCG targets the prevention of terrorism, sabotage, and subversion that may occur in various US ports (Papa, 2013). Any potential damage that can be caused to personnel, facilities, or vessels located in ports is under the responsibility of the mentioned organization.

Maritime safety operations conducted by USCG refer to investigating vessels and ports regarding environmental pollution, license merchant mariners, and waterways (Basu, 2014). Also, the officials of USGS provide recommendations for the transportation of dangerous cargo and drug testing for employees. As for maritime stewardship, the Coast Guard Strategy for Maritime Safety, Security, and Stewardship (CGS) creates the foundation for responding to all potential hazards. The Transportation Security Administration is another organization that oversees the security of railways, roads, public transport systems, buses, and ports.

The terrorist attack of 2001 caused the development and adoption of the International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS) by the US of international documents and agreements regulating port security. The ISPS proposed a risk assessment methodology for maritime transport companies and put forward several mandatory safety requirements that they must comply with (Radovilsky & Wagner, 2014). In particular, the newest security systems should be installed on ships and in ports, and security plans and emergency plans should be developed.

The International Code provides that for every five ships in the port there must be a security officer. The basic US national law in this area is the Maritime Safety Act (MTSA), adopted in 2002 and having a pronounced anti-terrorist orientation. Special attention is paid to checking the correctness of security plans, guidelines in this area, and their implementation. The manuals should describe in detail the access control procedures, verification of port workers’ identities, cargo inspections, security training for staff, incident reporting procedures, et cetera. Both USCG and USCBP control the implication of the mentioned set of regulations.

U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations and Their Roles

Information Sharing and Analysis Organization Standards Organization (ISAO SO) is one of the most prominent non-governmental organizations that operate in the field of cybersecurity by providing robust solutions. Its mission is to enhance the cybersecurity of the nation through the creation and maintenance of the Maritime Critical Infrastructure by collecting and sharing information (Tam & Jones, 2018).

In other words, the responsibility of ISAO SO is to ensure that all relevant data is obtained from available sources, processed, and utilized to protect ports. Since modern innovations develop rapidly, and new cyber-attacks tend to emerge, the mentioned organization must conduct surveys and remain competitive in the field of information technologies. Both prevention and response to threats are regarded by this institute as top priorities, which are to be achieved in collaboration with governmental organizations.

Direct security at the port is the responsibility of the terminal operators and mainly port authorities. The American Association of Port Authorities is a trade organization that involves the representatives of more than 130 ports in the Western Hemisphere, primarily in the United States (Knatz, 2017). It targets the promotion of economic and social relations as well as the advocacy of public policies related to port issues. The literature demonstrates that it is responsible for connecting port leaders, informing them of events and threats, and creating the environment that would meet their interests.

Also, transport maritime companies integrate information technologies into their business for security and safety reasons. For example, merchant ships in the US must inform the appropriate agencies in advance about the content of their cargo in an electronic form (Jensen, 2015). The introduction of automated systems was accompanied by protection improvement. After the adoption of the ISPS, it was necessary to match the existing means and systems of information protection with purchased physical security measures to combine the relevant security policies.

Chiappetta (2017) states that it is essential to discuss integrated security systems, the supply, and implementation of which in the US ocean ports are carried out by several companies. Ingersoll-Rand is a non-governmental organization that offers security technology and digital intelligent systems that are called to secure cargo and ports. The terrorist barriers prevent the entrance of unauthorized vehicles into ports, which especially important for strategic locations (Chiappetta, 2017). Biometrics and crash-rated gates also contribute to the effectiveness of the counter-terrorist vehicle control system.


In the view of the current evidence, it is possible to distinguish between several gaps that exist in the literature. In particular, there is little information regarding the requirements for providing ports and ships with safety equipment. More to the point, it is unclear how organizations and companies comply with security regulations set by ports. The very role of governmental and non-governmental organizations in monitoring and controlling this compliance remains vague (Mileski, Mejia, & Ferrell, 2015). Another gap that can be identified refers to specific actions introduced by organizations in the sphere of port cybersecurity.


The methodological basis of any study is critical in formulating a successful thesis. This point is obligatory as the choice of methods for conducting any research outlines its course and influences the final result. It is the competent selection of adequate and effective research methods that determine the depth of studying a problem, which is beneficial to solve the set tasks and serves as a solid base for achieving the goals.

For this research, the literature review method was selected as the most pertinent way to collect valuable information and synthesize findings. The mentioned method implies that the studies should be collected and commented on their validity and reliability as well as their role in addressing the target problem. The critique of sources and the consideration of the problem from different angles compose the core of the literature review method of research.

The search of the literature was conducted using such keywords as port security, maritime threats, ports security organizations, and port cybersecurity. Maritime Journal, Journal of Transportation Security, Transport Policy, and other peer-reviewed journals related to the US port security was selected as the sources of important information.

After data collection, several topics were identified, and findings were allocated according to them, thus allowing a researcher to specify trends, threats, opportunities, and strengths existing in the field of interest. It is also significant to point out the fact that the gaps existing in the literature were revealed, and findings were clarified to formulate recommendations for port security enhancement. Also, the directions for further research were identified to address contemporary gaps and enrich the theory and practice of port security.


The data collected in the course of the thorough literature review was analyzed using the method suggested by Creswell. In particular, a three-step based model includes such stages as data reduction, display, and conclusion drawing (Alhojailan, 2012). In terms of data reduction, information collected from relevant sources was processed, simplified, and transformed into insights and meanings. Each of the articles was critically evaluated, and the key ideas were revealed and documented.

During the data analysis, three major topics emerged from a variety of sub-themes. Namely, the roles and responsibilities were divided into the following topics: terrorism response (container safety, gate entrance, and biometrics), cybersecurity, and combating illicit trade. The last stage of data analysis is the interpretation of findings and the provision of pertinent recommendations to improve port security in the US.

The first finding revealed in the process of analysis is associated with a regulating role of governmental organizations in US port security. Such federal organizations as Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection focus on issuing policies and regulations that should serve as the foundation for secure and safe port operation. The programs and acts that were introduced by these organizations were found beneficial and rational in the context of the modern environment.

More specifically, the threat of terrorism remains critical not only in the US but also globally, which sets certain requirements of safety initiatives. The fact that both of the mentioned organizations take significant efforts to protect ports from the unauthorized entrance of vehicles and illicit cargo shows that they are highly responsible for safety. Not only port facilities and equipment but also employees and customers are covered by them.

Another discovery refers to the role of non-governmental organizations that operate in close cooperation with federal and national bodies. Cybersecurity as one of the most challenging threats to port security is regarded as the main source of danger in a maritime zone. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the shipping industry for modern society as 90 percent of goods transfer precisely by sea.

Likewise, any other large field of activity, navigation, and port security develop in parallel with technical progress. Ships are increasing, and teams are decreasing since more and more processes are being automated. The times when a ship in the sea was completely cut off from the rest of the world is a long time in the past. Nowadays, some onboard systems receive updates while sailing, and employees have access to the Internet. Pirates already abuse the presence of gaps in the cybersecurity system for planning theft of specific cargoes.

Based on innovative technologies, non-governmental organizations ensure access control and management systems using smart cards and biometrics, a video surveillance system, and digital recording with a single database of all ships, objects, and subjects of ports. The introduction of this technology allows reducing costs, improving investment efficiency, and minimizing risks. The study showed that the exploitation of the found vulnerabilities leads to the interception and substitution of information or signal jamming.

In turn, the collaboration of governmental and non-governmental organizations, namely, their policies and actions, allows anticipating and preventing not only terrorism threats but also illicit trade. The main advancements that were introduced recently in the areas of the US port security comprise container safety, biometrics for entrance, and additional gate security.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The analysis revealed that the main role of governmental organizations about port security lies in ensuring that policies and regulations are appropriate and set by the needs of the industry. At the same time, it became evident that their responsibility is associated with the continuous surveillance and reporting of threats and their potential solutions. For example, in response to terroristic attacks in 2001 and similar incidents, Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection launched a Code all vessels and trade companies should comply with.

Such initiatives show that federal organizations take significant measures to ensure port security. In their turn, non-governmental organizations are more concerned about trade and operations issues, including the American Association of Port Authorities and Ingersoll-Rand that create a proper environment for ports.

The key trend that was found is that regulations and policies set by organizations seem to be appropriate, and the majority of companies perform according to them. All the vehicles are obliged to use electronic means to notify ports about the arrival, and there are biometric systems that ensure the safety of employees. While the responsibility of controlling the security of ports lies in governmental organizations, non-governmental bodies are expected to support compliance with them.

Cyber ​​technologies have become necessary to operate and manage a variety of systems important to the safety of navigation and the protection of the marine environment. However, vulnerabilities created by the access and network connection of these systems can lead to cyber threats that need to be addressed. It should be strongly recommended to develop and use authentication and encryption mechanisms serving the systems, and the data transfer mechanism working only in one direction to eliminate the possibility of validating the transmitted data. Therefore, new policies regarding cybersecurity should be developed by governmental organizations in collaboration with non-governmental entities that are to elaborate on IT systems.

Based on the experience of implementing new regulations, in particular, in the field of port security, it can be predicted that the entry into force of the new policy may entail an increase in bureaucratic procedures, the number of mandatory vehicle documents, the volume of control, and supervisory measures. The findings described in this paper allow making a preliminary conclusion that a wide range of objects can be classified as critical information infrastructure, including ship, coastal, and port systems.

The federal agencies along with the port community should analyze the current situation with ensuring information security of transport and formulate a specific program with a focus on cybersecurity. There are needs to develop a more comprehensive policy on cybersecurity and encourage further collaboration between government and non-government organizations as a way to maximize benefits to port security. Future research should pay attention to discovering the ways to initiate this collaboration and potential solutions in the area of cyber threats.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the US government and non-government organizations involved in port security possess a set of roles and responsibilities. While the former is engaged in the overall control and improvement of port security by introducing relevant policies and taking regulatory actions, the latter are engaged in preparing certain measures to support the safe operation of ports, including cybersecurity systems and trade adjustments. It is necessary to conduct further studies to deepen the understanding of how various organizations contribute to port security in the US since this sphere remains poorly studied and may be vulnerable to terrorism and cyber threats.


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Basu, G. (2014). Combating illicit trade and transnational smuggling: Key challenges for customs and border control agencies. World Customs Journal, 8(2), 15-26.

Chiappetta, A. (2017). Hybrid ports: The role of IoT and cybersecurity in the next decade. Journal of Sustainable Development of Transport and Logistics, 2(2), 47-56.

Jensen, L. (2015). Challenges in maritime cyber-resilience. Technology Innovation Management Review, 5(4), 35-39.

Knatz, G. (2017). How competition is driving change in port governance, strategic decision-making and government policy in the United States. Research in Transportation Business & Management, 22, 67-77.

Leonard, T. J., Gallo, P., & Véronneau, S. (2015). Security challenges in United States sea ports: An overview. Journal of Transportation Security, 8(1-2), 41-49.

Mileski, J., Mejia, M., & Ferrell, T. (2015). Making lemonade out of lemons: Port operators’ perceptions of their port security regulation compliance. WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs, 14(1), 93-108.

Papa, P. (2013). US and EU strategies for maritime transport security: A comparative perspective. Transport Policy, 28, 75-85.

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Tam, K., & Jones, K. D. (2018). Maritime cybersecurity policy: The scope and impact of evolving technology on international shipping. Journal of Cyber Policy, 3(2), 147-164.

Williams, A. D. (2015). Beyond a series of security nets: Applying STAMP & STPA to port security. Journal of Transportation Security, 8(3-4), 139-157.

Zhao, X., Yan, H., & Zhang, J. (2017). A critical review of container security operations. Maritime Policy & Management, 44(2), 170-186.

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