Encyclopedia of Security and Emergency Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Lauren R. Shapiro, Marie-Helen Maras

Public-Private Partnerships: Port Security

  • Pierre-Luc PomerleauEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69891-5_292-1


Port security Port threats Public-private partnerships Information sharing Critical infrastructure Supply chain Security networks 


Port security refers to security and law enforcement measures employed to safeguard port assets (vessels, harbors, facilities, cargos, employees, visitors) from natural and man-made threats, as well as from criminal activities.


The security of maritime transportation is essential for the international economic well-being and as such is one of the subsectors in the critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure refers to a vital system that performs a specific function in society, “whose cessation or destruction would have a significant impact” (Curt and Tacnet 2018, p. 2441). According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2017), 80% of global trade by volume and more than 70% by value is carried on ships and handled by seaports worldwide (p. 61). Mega ports across Asia, North America, and Europe provide the primary maritime system for most of the world. Maritime shipping, like other transportation systems, faces several challenges in establishing and maintaining the access controls needed to secure shipments near a port, in port, or in transit from a port (Purpura 2008). In particular, ports must facilitate legitimate trade while at the same time protecting their assets against a myriad of threats.

Challenges in meeting the security needs of ships stem from two interconnected sources. First, the public and private sectors are responsible for monitoring the large volume of cargo transported internationally by ships. Second, in order to make a profit, this cargo must be transported quickly and efficiently. Even though ports are more secure today, they are still vulnerable due to their economic importance, the speed of shipping, and their visibility, and despite the maritime sector’s vulnerability to natural and man-made threats, it has not received the same attention as other transportation sectors, due primarily to the small number of security incidents that have been made public.

After 2001, the maritime support system, including its ports and ships on the ocean, was determined to be a particularly attractive target because of its importance to the global supply chain of goods, its vulnerability due to gaps in security, and its strategic importance (Mat Salley 2006). Governments, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and the private sectors of many nations realized that new threats to the maritime transportation mode were evolving at a rapid pace. For example, Bowley (2013) argues that a significant attack on one or more of the large mega-ports capable of servicing large vessels could cause substantial disruptions to international trade by impacting the current “just-in-time” business principle. The possibility of losing access to even one major port for several days would be highly problematic for the USA as it would affect not only the local area, private businesses locally and abroad but also the federal government (Government Accountability Office 2007).

The United States’ borders include not only the southern border with Mexico and the northern border with Canada but also different areas of liquid borders between ports of entry in the Great Lakes as well as along the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans (Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security 2011). The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is responsible for securing these borders, stopping drug trafficking, and performing other essential missions. The maritime system, however, is global and requires transnational cooperation to secure it against various threats – the U.S. Customs and Border Protection currently has 54 memorandum of understanding (MOU) with multiple partners (Government Accountability Office 2018). Meeting these threats is possible only through public and private partnerships (PPP) as neither public nor private entities fully control security at ports. Specifically, both the public and private sectors must work together “to establish a common scope, objectives and a working methodology to achieve shared goals” (The International Centre for the Prevention of Crime 2018, p. 141).

Port Security

Ports are both unique and complex as they often involve government-owned operations, private terminal operators, and other organizations that lease port authority facilities. This variety of ownership makes security complicated. As Brewer (2014) argues, the public and private “nodes” of each of these infrastructures have distinct interests, duties, responsibilities, and powers in policing the waterfront and the port. Traditional methods of crime prevention are not well suited to this context and a collaborative approach involving police, governments, and the private sector is necessary. Effective public-private sector coordination is vital to achieving resilience in maritime port security (Busch and Givens 2014).

Port Threats

In the modern era, traditional port crimes such as smuggling, piracy, and theft have been joined by other types of offenses – sabotage, labor unrest, insider threat, cyber-threat, stowaways, tampering with shipping containers, and leaving a dangerous item on a dock, as well as smuggling a weapon of mass destruction and other forms of terrorist acts (Brewer 2014; Christopher 2015; Government Accountability Office 2016; McNicholas 2016; Washington Post 2014). According to Fennelly et al. (2017), because most of the global trade consists of raw materials, controlled products, food, automobiles, clothing, and electronics, moving it by sea is the most effective way to proceed. However, this mode of transport relies on high volume, which creates challenges for the governments and private organizations responsible for ensuring safe and secure cargo. For instance, in the USA, only about 4% of cargos are inspected at seaports, while in Canada, it is only 2% (Quigley et al. 2017). This low percentage of inspection creates a major vulnerability for organized crime to exploit.

As an examination of all threats is beyond the scope of this chapter, only four of the threats seaports are currently facing are further examined here – terrorist threats, natural threats, insider threats, and cyber-threats. While terrorist and natural threats to maritime and port security have been discussed in the literature, cyber- and insider-threats are relatively new threats to law enforcement and must be carefully considered by port security management.

Terrorist and Natural Threats

Since 9/11, the threat of terrorism has forced ports to invest considerable amounts of money in security measures. However, although the probability of problems due to natural disasters and climate change is greater than the threat of terrorism such as the use of explosives or bombs to generate fear among the population, ports are not as prepared as they should be to maintain their operations when faced with such challenges. The Coast Guard is accustomed to guarding against cargo theft, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and stowaways. However, port security management teams and their law enforcement partners must also have emergency management and response plans in place to protect people and facilities from future natural threats as well as terrorism (Maritime Executive 2011).

Climate change will be a significant natural threat to ports in the future as changes in water level, storms, precipitation, and higher temperatures are likely to affect them directly (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2008). Threats from hurricanes include high winds, heavy rainfall, storm surge, coastal and inland flooding, and rip currents, as well as tornadoes – the 2005 hurricane season, which included Katrina, Rita, and Wilma – was particularly challenging for ports (Government Accountability Office 2007). It is already clear that natural events not only cause loss of life but also have a significant economic impact on ports – the total cost of damages for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 has been estimated at US$ 2.2 billion (Quigley et al. 2017). On a positive note, when hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, port operations were more resilient in maintaining functional operations, evaluating cargo shipments, and scanning incoming containerized cargos (Odegaard 2018). After only 36 h, the port operation was back to normal operations (Odegaard 2018).

Communication, interpersonal coordination, and interagency coordination are the three most common problems during natural disasters (Government Accountability Office 2007). Two best practices to ensure people know what to do and how to react to a natural or man-made crisis are having updated emergency management plans and conducting tabletop exercises to practice emergency situations with stakeholders to assess the ability of different government agencies and business entities to respond to and recover from a crisis (U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2005).


Effective information and communications technology are vital to protecting maritime and port infrastructure (Willis 2016). Logistics systems rely on technology to monitor the flow of shipments as well as transactions among manufacturers, carriers, and shipping organizations. Vessel navigation depends on the global positioning system and automated control systems are now an important part of the port infrastructure, for example, in shipment navigation, natural gas transportation, oil loading or unloading, and electric grids. However, the technologies that increase efficiency in maritime transportation also heighten the system’s vulnerability to cyberattacks as these systems can be exploited to disrupt port operations or to damage port infrastructure (Willis 2016). Navigation or control systems can be hacked, increasing the risk of vessel collisions, and the integrity of data control systems can be compromised so that manifest information cannot be trusted (Willis 2016). Some examples of cyber-threats for ports are the risk of having a cyberattack against servers, phishing and spear-phishing attacks, zero-day exploits, or man-in-the-middle (session hijacking) attacks among others.

Besides, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there is a real danger that emails being sent to and from ships are monitored or altered, thus potentially affecting commercial transactions. Many vessels are still using outdated computer software that has not been designed with cybersecurity in mind, exposing ships to cyberattacks (Bull 2016). Willis (2016) questions whether the current protection and redundancies in place to mitigate these vulnerabilities are sufficient, and if it is clear, who is to respond to any cyberattack on port infrastructure in the future.

Cyberattacks on the maritime transportation system can result in loss of life, physical damage to critical infrastructure, disruption of supply chains, and theft of sensitive information, as well as being used to support criminal organization activities such as cargo smuggling or cargo theft (Transport Canada 2016). In June 2017, Maersk, the world largest container shipping company was the victim of a cyberattack that demonstrated the scale of damage a computer virus can create in an interdependent and interconnected industry (Saul 2017). This cyberattack was the most critical disruption of the global shipping industry to date as several ports operated by Maersk in the USA, India, Spain, and the Netherlands were unable to conduct business. The company was forced to shut down its computer systems to carry out a forensic investigation, which meant that, since the global positioning systems were not functioning, it no longer knew where its containers were, increasing the possibility of further loss and/or theft (Saul 2017).

To prevent a similar situation, shipping companies should conduct joint cybersecurity vulnerability assessments with law enforcement to assess their computer systems and evaluate the risk of any type of cyber-related attacks. Companies should have an updated recovery plan and governance and oversight of their security programs should be implemented by a cybersecurity committee, which should also review their access controls and computer network design, updating (or installing) an intrusion detection system and securing all communications through encryption (Transport Canada 2016).

Insider Threat

Managing and detecting employees at risk of committing internal criminal conspiracies is a complex challenge for seaports (Christopher 2015). Catrantzos (2012) defines an insider threat as “an individual and, more broadly, the danger posed by an individual who possesses legitimate access and occupies a position of trust in or with the infrastructure being targeted” (p. 4). Port employees may help members of organized crime groups to smuggle drugs or instruments of terror as part of legitimate cargo traveling on commercial vessels and cruise ships or may remove contraband material or conceal it before it can be detected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or technological detection systems (Christopher 2015). When using cargos as a mean to transport drugs, organized crime almost always relies on the assistance from port employees. In 2018, authorities working at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and the Port of Antwerp in Belgium seized more than 73 metric tons of cocaine, a 35% increase from the year before (Den Held and Asmann 2019). According to Den Held and Asmann (2019), corrupt workers at the Port of Antwerp earned between EUR 75,000 and EUR 125,000 per drug shipment.

Those who pose an insider threat may have other motives, such as helping to launch cyber- or physical-security attacks on the maritime global supply chain (Shapiro et al. 2018). Ports and naval employees may also be interested in aiding state or non-state actors who want to disrupt national security or critical infrastructure operations either for personal economic gain or to lead to a loss of revenue for private and public organizations (Shapiro et al. 2018). A recent risk is the threat of homegrown violent extremism (Cozine 2019). For example, a radicalized employee working at a port or a visitor of the port could be a threat to the security of the port operations, the safety of employees, and assets in the event that a terrorist attack would be perpetrated in a port area. Screening employees and visitors through background checks is key in risk management. Being able to identify individuals who show signs of radicalization or extremist behaviors and characteristics is also essential for law enforcement professionals working at ports (see chapter on “Border Security” in this volume).

The Importance of the Supply Chain

Most criminal activities carried out by transnational criminal organizations using ships and containers to exploit vulnerabilities within the maritime supply chain are very lucrative. On average, 675 shipping containers are lost or stolen at sea each year, which has substantial consequences for the finances and reputations of private organizations (World Shipping Council 2017).

Fennelly et al. (2017) argue that supply chain security in the future will be tied to what they refer to as the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) which, as the focus of maritime security, will affect ports, shipping lanes, chokepoints, and coastal waters as the ability to move goods quickly and securely will continue to be paramount for global commerce. SLOCs will bring about a shift in regulations, with an emphasis on supply chain and cargo security leading to a change in the present focus on port security. This systemic approach will be possible due to significant developments in technology that will provide improved methods of tracking, smart locks, and information databases, allowing cargo to move through the supply chain quickly, securely, and efficiently. It will also make it possible to identify cargo loads operating outside the regular security pipelines (Fennelly et al. 2017). To comply with federal regulations and controls, shipping companies will rely on specialized examinations and testing to certify cargo ships before they sail (O’Brien 2015).

Law Enforcement Initiatives

Different strategic initiatives to improve security and share intelligence have been implemented over the years. The Shiprider program is an excellent example of work that is being done across the US/Canadian border with the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as is the integrated 2006 Cross-borders Maritime Law Enforcement Operations (ICMLEO, Royal Canadian Mounted Police 2016). The Coast Guard’s Deployable Operations Group illustrates the role that maritime, port security, and specialized naval teams play in the Coast Guard’s post 9/11 mission. This group was created in 2007 as a domestic maritime counter- and anti-terrorism force against threats at home and abroad and brings together organizations such as port security, tactical law enforcement teams, maritime safety units, and security response teams (Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security 2011; Lowe 2016). For example, this group was deployed for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and in the piracy mission of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking case on the African coast (Lowe 2016).

Public-Private Partnership Initiatives

Many initiatives have been undertaken by public and private partners to enhance port and maritime security. The Container Security Initiative (CSI) that examines high-risk, US bound, containerized cargos at foreign ports, the 24-h rule that requires that freight manifests be submitted at least 1 day before shipment arrivals, and the 96-h rule (prior to arrival) for ships bound for US maritime ports are excellent examples of initiatives aimed at protecting ports and increasing maritime security (Busch and Givens 2014; Christopher 2015). The Coast Guard has worked with Microsoft to produce an electronic chip that allows ship’s crews to enter information in computers while they are at sea and offline and then transmit this data to the Coast Guard. As such, it keeps the Coast Guard informed of the ships’ positions at sea once they have access to the Internet, increasing the efficiency of security operations and the productivity of crew members (Busch and Givens 2014).

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) initiative, which works voluntarily with the Customs and Border Protection agency to undertake inspections for US importers, is another example of a partnership that has increased transparency in the supply chain, helping to identify suspicious shipments (Government Accountability Office 2016; Maritime Executive 2011). The Transportation Worker Identification Card program helps screen employees and individuals who have access to critical port infrastructure (Willis 2016), and the X-ray, gamma-ray, and radiation detection systems at ports have contributed to reducing the risk that different types of bombs and radiological materials will be shipped in inbound cargo containers (Maritime Executive 2011; Willis 2016).

Another example of an excellent public and private partnership initiative is the creation of the Maritime Security Council, which developed an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) composed of public and private actors representing maritime port employees from around the world. Representatives from both sectors work alongside each other, fostering collaborations that produce information essential to decision-making. This type of PPP initiative or fusion center facilitates information-sharing between maritime port security stakeholders such as the U.S. Coast Guard and various private entities (Busch and Givens 2014). In their study of Australian fusion centers, Bright and Whelan (2018) argue that the “hub-and-spoke” model should be prioritized in sharing information for national security and law enforcement purposes. This model has a primary center that acts as a central “hub,” while various Joint Analyst Groups (JAGS) – multiagency groups located in major jurisdictions or regional fusion centers – are connected to the central hub (Bright and Whelan 2018).

As it is common in the protection initiatives of different industries and with regard to critical infrastructure, port security professionals should use data analytics techniques, such as machine learning, to identify possible common denominators, suspicious activities, or anomalies in employee’s behaviors to detect potential insider threat as well as any potential criminal activities (see chapter on “Machine Learning” in this volume). Data is critical in managing security, and data analytics for port security is no different than that dealing with other critical assets. Data analytics techniques make it possible to learn continually from port security data by focusing primarily on high-risk behaviors and anomalies while prioritizing financial resources, efforts, and costs in mitigating port security risks, as well as using data sets to create rules and models that reduce false positives. Security analysts should rely on real-time data that allow them to create a detailed threat assessment by pulling relevant and valuable data from multiple sources (e.g., scanning data, employee data, information logs, security logs), making it possible to conduct targeted and risk-based security assessments (Odegaard 2018). The use of data analytics should be explored further to understand how it can be used to manage various threats, such as those posed by gaps in cybersecurity or criminal insiders, and to improve port security.

How Private and Public Partnerships Could Improve Port Security Going Forward?

Various modes of crime controls and incidents may be part of the future of maritime transportation (Brewer 2014). To increase efficiency, the traditional and rigid hierarchical structure presently used to manage security needs to be replaced by a horizontal structure that is more flexible, fluid, and adaptable to the level of complexity now found in criminal organizations (Cozine et al. 2014; Gerspacher and Dupont 2007). New legislation may be necessary to allow law enforcement and public entities to work more closely with the private sector. For example, the public sector has the power to enforce the law, but the private sector has access to an enormous quantity of data that is needed to prevent crime and terrorism. The private sector also has skills and financial and human resources that the public sector lacks. Private sector professionals with skills in data analytics, computer science, or cybersecurity should be leveraged to improve the overall security of ports by combining their work with the strengths and knowledge of the public sector.

The flexible networks now being used by organized crime and terrorist groups give them a competitive edge (Gerspacher and Dupont 2007). A horizontal organization in port security would promote increasing trust between member organizations, encouraging better information-sharing capabilities and lower operating costs than the conventional vertical integrated structures used by most agencies and private companies today (Dupont 2015). Trust between public and private organizations is critical to trans-governmental cooperation and to meet cross-jurisdictional challenges such as combating terrorism and transnational crime (Cozine et al. 2014).

As argued by Dupont (2015), legitimate networks will have to adopt and mirror the structure of organized crime networks if they hope to be successful in countering their actions. These future networked systems will have to build layers of protection and defense-in-depth structures if they are to deal effectively with critical system security risks while preserving flexibility, functionality, and efficiency (U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2005).

Future security networks will also need to emphasize the importance of cooperation and participation between both domestic and international stakeholders as well as making sure that each partner uses their expertise to manage strategic points (U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2005). According to Brewer (2014), protecting ports from crime and natural disasters will require mobilizing public and private actors in highly connected security networks that demonstrate trust in their peers, build social capital, and engage in activities of co-production towards the same common objectives. More specifically, networks of public and private actors could work together to plan joint investment projects in digital technology as well as employee training (e.g., protection techniques, vulnerability assessment). The same networks should also collaborate in audits and inspections and in creating new standards for port security when responding to man-made and natural crises, as well as co-creating new types of technological security software and hardware to improve port and maritime security.

The private sector might take the lead in providing security and video surveillance at ports, which would allow the public sector to allocate more resources to other priorities for port and maritime security. The private sector could also bring new security skills, such as techniques like crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), to enhance physical security and access controls while the public sector would continue to be responsible for enforcing the law.

The private sector could assist public sector port authorities in using data analytics to improve their intelligence, enabling them to better detect insider threats, as well as with computer science and encryption skills that would help them work with law enforcement to mitigate cybersecurity threats to ports, communications, cargos, and vessels. Increased intelligence would also facilitate crucial decisions such as the deployment of personnel and the use of automated processes (Odegaard 2018).

Furthermore, if intelligence is accumulated in a fusion center such as an ISAC, data can be gathered in one platform, aggregated, analyzed, and more easily disseminated to the right individuals. This approach would enhance collaboration in using data from both internal and external services to create an optimal intelligence cycle for public-private partnership security networks (Odegaard 2018). Finally, the private sector might also assist in improving security at ports by developing innovative biometric capabilities as well as the use of satellite imagery or unmanned aerial vehicles.


The digital evolution of our globalized economy will continue to progress and change rapidly. This progress will bring more challenges and new risks. Cybersecurity and insider threat risks will significantly increase the economic and national security challenges for ports and maritime security as well as other critical infrastructures. Adversaries will employ different sophisticated technological tools and substantial financial resources to achieve their criminal goals. Like governments, the private sector and public law enforcement will have to adapt and deal with these threats in a context of limited resources. It will thus be imperative for security and law enforcement professionals to use a risk-based approach in making decisions and choosing strategies as prevention measures and technological controls are extremely expensive to deploy, difficult to implement, and to maintain.

Crime-control partnerships between public and private actors have often been implemented to provide physical security and access control, and the same approach must be taken to manage cyber and technological threats. Digital networks using secure online communications to share intelligence about threats towards ports should be given priority. Moreover, governments should continue to encourage the private sector to design security hardware and software that promotes security (Yang 2010). The efficiency of public-private partnerships should be quantified through evaluation plans that assess the overall performance of such partnerships based on measurable objectives, key performance indicators, and evaluation methodologies, which will facilitate the implementation of future partnership programs (Government Accountability Office 2018).

The security measures established since 2001 through public and private partnerships and new legislation have improved port security while maintaining port efficiency (Willis 2016), but ports are still significant targets for man-made and natural threats, and there are still challenges in information sharing. More emphasis should be given to protecting national security, the economy, and people. To succeed in this strategic objective, partnerships between various public and private actors will be vital to mitigating future risks.



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Further Readings

  1. Bright, D., & Whelan, C. (2018). On the relationship between goals, membership and network design in multi-agency “fusion” centres. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management.  https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-05-2018-0070.
  2. Quigley, K., Bisset, B., & Mills, B. (2017). Too critical to fail: How Canada manages threats to critical infrastructure. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.ca/Too-Critical-Fail-Manages-Infrastructure/dp/0773551611/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548361193&sr=1-1&keywords=too+critical+to+fail

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Business Administration – Homeland Security and Leadership PolicyNorthcentral UniversitySan DiegoUSA