Port asks for funds to bolster security

$5.5 million request would plug gaps in surveillance system

August 10, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The port of Baltimore is asking the state Board of Public Works to approve a $5.5 million contract to design and install a camera system that would allow security officials to remotely monitor the port's fences, terminals, gates and piers.

The contract request, listed on the board's agenda today, comes a month after The Sun reported numerous deficiencies in the port's security systems almost four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Vast areas are not covered by surveillance cameras, and until recently, wooden decoy cameras provided the illusion of security along part of the port's perimeter, the article said.

Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr., the Ehrlich administration's point man on port security matters, said he couldn't say whether the proposed contract with Adesta LLC of Omaha, Neb., would cover all of the port's publicly owned facilities. However, he described it as a "comprehensive" system.

"It's needed in this era of terrorism. This is all part of the 9/11 stuff," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the longtime chief advocate for the port who recently oversaw the search for a new port director.

A study completed this year by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security listed Baltimore among 66 ports nationwide that are considered especially susceptible to terrorist attack.

Ports said the contract went out for bidding in October. The Maryland Port Administration said in its description of the contract submitted to the board - composed of the governor, comptroller and state treasurer - that the new surveillance system would let security officials respond effectively to intrusions and other suspicious activities.

Physical barriers

The contract also calls for Adesta to provide enhanced physical barriers to block unauthorized vehicles from entering port grounds.

The lack of video surveillance at the port had raised concerns among officers of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who brought their concerns to The Sun. The officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were worried that intruders could easily gain access to the terminals, where hazardous materials are sometimes stored in open areas without surveillance.

The article described such security problems as fences with malfunctioning alarms, deteriorated fencing and a camera system that did not work. At one terminal fence, a reporter found wooden blocks carved in the shape of cameras mounted on poles.

By the time President Bush visited the port on July 20, the decoy cameras had been removed.

Low bidder

Adesta was the low bidder among four companies that sought the contract. It was ranked second on the technical merits of its proposal, but its $5.5 million bid was less than a third of the $16.2 million proposed by the highest-scoring competitor - ADT Security Services of Alexandria, Va. Two other firms that scored lower than Adesta bid just under $10 million.

Adesta, which bills itself as the 22nd-largest security systems integrator in the United States, has previous experience at the port of Corpus Christi in Texas, where it was awarded a $2.9 million contract to install a video system in late 2003.

Bankruptcy filing

The limited liability corporation is the successor to Adesta Communications Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as part of the telecommunications industry meltdown in late 2001.

It emerged from bankruptcy in 2002 with 200 employees - one-quarter its former size - and has since won a series of security contracts across the country. Among them is a $4 million contract for security systems at Washington state's Grand Coulee Dam - the largest hydroelectric facility in North America.

Ports said he is not worried about the disparity between the bids, noting that Adesta was given a technical score higher than two companies that bid almost twice as much.

He said the company's bankruptcy should not be an issue, contending that many companies emerge from Chapter 11 as stronger businesses.

`Hungry' company

"That would actually play into how hungry they are," he said.

In another security-related development, the port administration will also ask the public works board to approve a $432,922 contract with Smiths Detection Inc. of Pine Brook, N.J., to buy 17 hand-held explosive detectors. According to port officials, the devices are capable of detecting more than 40 explosives, chemical weapons agents and narcotics. The devices will be used at truck and vehicle gates.

For both contracts, the federal government will cover 80 percent of the cost.

Bentley said the new surveillance contract has "taken nearly two years to get through the state procurement system."

Dispute over contract

She described the process as "stupid" and said such delays are among the reasons she has been pushing for the port to be put under the control of an independent authority separate from the Maryland Department of Transportation, which now oversees the port.

The Ehrlich administration has publicly opposed that proposal, arguing that the current system gives the port access to the vast budgetary resources of the transportation department.

Ports said the procurement process for the surveillance system had actually taken just over a year - not two. Bentley, he said, was "off by 100 percent."

He said that port officials already can make emergency procurements but that said the video surveillance contract called for a painstaking process of drawing up specifications, getting feedback from vendors, technical scoring and finally bidding.

"They have that authority to move quickly but there's a balance between moving quickly and making sure the taxpayers' money is spent appropriately and that it's not going to somebody's friend," Ports said.

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