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Friday, July 20, 2007

Maritime Security: Port of Houston gets a bump in $

Reported as Houston at risk: Homeland Security officials place this area in the top tier of targets vulnerable to terrorist attack:
Shortly after reporting a gut feeling that terrorists might be about to attack the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that Houston would get $25 million this year in federal anti-terrorist grants, a 50 percent increase over last year. The money will be used for planning, equipment, training and exercises.

Houston will also receive $14.5 million in federal funds to improve communications among first responders such as police and firefighters. That money can be put to good use in Harris County and reminds public safety officials that almost six years after 9/11, our first responders do not yet have the best equipment to battle an attack using weapons of mass destruction.

Homeland Security officials deserve credit this year for basing federal grants on some sort of risk analysis, rather than on which state's senator sits on which influential committee. Because of Houston's large population, port and concentration of petrochemical plants, federal officials placed this area in the top tier of likely terrorist targets, along with New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Chertoff said Houston was not necessarily in danger, but the consequences of an attack here could be severe: A low-tech U.S.S. Cole-type attack could sink a ship in the Ship Channel, interrupting traffic for weeks or months.
Earlier post on politics and port security here. Decisions based on risk assessment seem preferable to those based on politics... to me anyway.

As to how long the Ship Channel might be closed, I suspect that it could be opened faster than the projection in the article, if necessary. More on the Ship Channel here:
Already the busiest port in the United States for handling foreign tonnage and one of the fastest-paced ports in the world, the Galveston Bay port complex in Houston finds itself at a crossroads.

To meet ever-increasing demands, the port hopes to soon see results from several new initiatives: the Houston Ship Channel deepening and widening project; the addition of a world class container terminal; and the possible merger of the ports of Houston and Galveston.

Along its 54 miles of winding channel, the Port of Houston has grown to become one of the largest ports in the world in terms of volume and cargo value. Captain of the Port Houston-Galveston zone also encompasses several of the other busiest ports in the country: Houston, first in foreign tonnage; Texas City, fourth; and Freeport, 24th.

On any given day, you can find at least four supertankers conducting lightering operations offshore, discharging their cargo to smaller tankers because the 1,200-foot giants are too large to safely enter port. Add to that about 400 oil and gas production platforms in the zone and you've got a formula for busy marine safety activities.

Last year, 7,100 freight ships called on the port of Houston, and 100,000 barges navigated the Houston Ship Channel.

Houston is also home to the largest concentration of petrochemical activity in the nation. The $15 billion petrochemical complex, second largest worldwide, is represented by every major U.S. energy company and most foreign oil companies.

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