The disaster at the port was nothing more
than a mock terrorist attack, the first time such a drill has been
staged in Southern California since 9/11, to determine if Los Angeles
law enforcement and rescue personnel were prepared to respond to a
terrorist explosion. It was part of a two-day series of exercises
throughout California that included a simulated airplane hijacking at
Oakland International Airport and a simulated train derailment in
The jury is still out on the results of the
so-called “dirty-bomb drill” at the Port of Los Angeles, said a
spokeswoman for John Miller, the Los Angeles Police Department’s
Homeland Security chief, but a police department report scheduled for
release in September was expected to detail specific areas for
The drill raised anew persistent questions
about the current state of Los Angeles’ homeland security. Some critics
believe Los Angeles is still vulnerable and that not much has been done
since 9/11 in terms of security at some of the sites city officials say
are obvious terrorist targets.
According to Stephen Flynn, a Jeane J.
Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council
on Foreign Relations and author of the book America the Vulnerable: How Our Government is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism, security at the Port of Los Angeles comes in at a “three” on a scale of one to 10.
“The Port of Los Angeles is the most likely
target for terrorists,” Flynn told HSToday, “because it could really
impact our economy if something was to happen there.”
Detonation of a radiological dirty bomb at
the port is a possibility due to lax security measures, according to
David Arian, president of Local 13 of the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union, whose members work at the Port of LA.
Arian said that many of the cargo containers
coming in to the port, which account for one-third of the freight
entering the United States, are not inspected for potential threats
because of a severe backlog at the cargo area. As a result, regulations
handed down by the Department of Homeland Security in Washington are
not being followed, he charged.
“Employers have not implemented many of the
security regulations that were supposedly mandatory July 1,” Arian said
during a conference call with reporters, adding that federal
regulations are being ignored in the interest of productivity and
profits. “Checking container seals as they come on and off ships or in
and out of the gates is not being done.”
Arian said he decided to speak out about
security lapses at the Port of Los Angeles after a cargo container
carrying propane tanks exploded there in April. He said the container
was being transferred to a ship and was not inspected because doing so
would have been too time consuming. In addition, Arian said, the
container came onto the terminal without any supporting documentation.
“We were very fortunate that no one was hurt,
but this incident is a direct result of the port’s failure to put
proper security measures in place,” Arian said.
Those are serious charges. And the US Coast
Guard, which oversees security at the ports, retorted that the Arian
claims are completely unfounded.
Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Lance Jones
said port security still has a long way to go, but security measures
now in place are being followed.
“Port security does not have an overnight
solution, but the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard,
in particular, have been working continuously since Sept. 11, 2001, to
put measures in place that will improve our ability to protect our
nation’s seaports,” Jones said in a prepared statement.
This sort of whistleblowing by employees who
work at what are termed “critical targets” by homeland security
officials is not limited to the port. On Aug. 11, several security
employees at the nation’s largest municipal utility, the Los Angeles
Department of Water and Power (DWP), accused Los Angeles Mayor James
Hahn and other city officials of not doing enough to protect the city’s
utilities and power plants from terrorism in an internal report based
on employee focus groups.
Security guards at the DWP said that DWP
management “refused to acknowledge post-9/11 conditions.” Federal
officials long ago determined that power plants throughout the country
are likely targets for terrorists.
Elizabeth Kaltman, a spokeswoman for Hahn,
said the mayor quickly responded to DWP security guards’ complaints
about security at the DWP facilities by ordering the Los Angeles Police
Department to immediately look for vulnerabilities along the DWP’s
13,000 miles of power transmission lines.
Kaltman said that, despite concerns of DWP
security guards, the city has taken homeland security very seriously.
Since 9/11, Los Angeles has spent about $150 million on rescue
equipment and communications in order to be better prepared in the
event of a terrorist attack on the city. Moreover, she said, the city
has hired 70 police officers in the past year to deal specifically with
security at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where officials
believe terrorists could strike.
Paul Haney, the director of homeland security
at Los Angeles World Airports, said LAX “will construct, upgrade and
rebuild the existing baggage-handling systems in all passenger
terminals to accommodate explosive detection systems within an in-line
baggage screening handling system.
“We’re moving forward with a $42 million
initiative to install more than 1,200 closed circuit, video
surveillance cameras throughout LAX,” Haney said. “The system will be
integrated with existing video resources at LAX and will be
administered by Los Angeles Airport Police at a new, centralized
monitoring station. In addition, video footage will be recorded
digitally and maintained for future use by law enforcement officials.
Phase I of this project, involving installation of cameras throughout
the Tom Bradley International Terminal, has been completed, and the
cameras are operational at this time. Phases II, III and IV will place
cameras at other locations throughout LAX, with the entire project
scheduled for completion late 2005.”
Mayor Hahn also signed an $11.7 million
initiative to upgrade or replace four miles of existing perimeter fence
and approved the construction of a new perimeter security roadway and
the installation of security lighting along the northwest, west,
southwest and east perimeter of LAX.
Haney added that tens of millions of dollars
are also being earmarked for a new fire station, passenger screening
stations and decontamination units at the airport.
But for some critics, the city’s spending
gives the false impression that Los Angeles will be well prepared if
something catastrophic were to happen here.
LAX’s vulnerability was brought home on Sept.
4 when four passenger terminals were evacuated after two incidents. In
one, flashlight batteries exploded in the hands of a Transportation
Security Administration screener as he searched a Japanese passenger’s
luggage. In the other, a passenger avoided screening by going up a down
escalator, forcing the rescreening of all passengers. Both incidents
were deemed non-terrorist but they added to the city’s jitters.
Elsa Lee, a 20-year US Army veteran operating
in the field of counterterrorism, said she has yet to see any visible
changes to theway law enforcement and city officials respond to the
threat of terrorist activity in Los Angeles, because there is a major
disconnect between federal and local and state agencies and money is
not being spent on training.
“I don’t get the sense that there’s a
cohesive coordinated effort,” said Lee, who now runs Advantage SCI, a
homeland security consulting firm. “I think there are gaps in the
system. What I’ve seen is a lot of investment in equipment, but not a
lot on training. That’s a critical part. Terrorists train every day.
What are we doing to keep up with that? That’s a real challenge. I
think the decisionmaking or the leadership ability is not there.”
George Cummings, the director of homeland
security for the Port of Los Angeles, agreed somewhat that
communication between local and federal officials needs improvement,
but he believes that it’s a work in progress.
“Nobody had ever tried mixing in different
departments together,” Cummings said. “There are some agencies like the
FBI we work with who are territorial. The key thing is that we have to
work together, and it’s going to take time to understand what the
different roles are and who does what.”
Cummings said the “dirty bomb drill” at the
port was a good first step for police, fire and FBI to work together
and get to know each other.
“I think the drill went very well,” Cummings said. “I just hope it never becomes a reality.” HST
Bidding in Los Angeles
As would be expected for a cutting-edge city
like Los Angeles, bidding for homeland security projects is high-tech
and very accessible.
The City of Los Angeles maintains resources
of interest to bidders on potential homeland security contracts. The LA
Mayor’s Office of Economic Development maintains a website where city
agencies such as the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) post business
opportunities. The website, the Los Angeles Business Assistance Virtual
Network, is located at http://www.laban.org/.
Businesses can register at the website to
receive updates on contract opportunities via e-mail or fax and can
bookmark opportunities of interest. The site covers all city agencies
except the Department of Water and Power (DWP), which has its own
website at http://www.ladwp.com/ladwp/cms/ladwp000893.jsp. The city
plans to integrate DWP in the future.
The virtual business network site, meanwhile,
provides plenty of information on specific contract opportunities, such
as detailed instructions and the name, phone number and address of the
procurement specialist to contact if any questions arise.
For example, a homeland security-related
opportunity that closed Sept. 1, called for submission of proposals for
“an experienced, independent third party to conduct a study to evaluate
the existing organizational structure of LAWA Police and Los Angeles
Police Department (LAPD), and to evaluate the potential of a merger of
the two organizations.”
The site provides the full request for
proposal (RFP) in PDF format, along with a brief description of the
goal of the contract and the information of the procurement specialist
in charge of it. Clicking on different tabs under the contract’s
heading provides a potential bidder with notices of relevant meetings,
as well as their times and locations.
Several of the other departments, such as the
Department of General Services, maintain regulations dictating
contractor roles and responsibilities on the city’s website at
Check the site regularly for future
procurement for Los Angeles International Airport under LAWA, which is
now massively upgrading its physical security with closed circuit
television cameras and improvements to its perimeter fence.
— Mickey McCarter