U.S. will triple port security grants for Md.

May 17, 2008|By Matthew Hay Brown and Laura McCandlish | Matthew Hay Brown and Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporters

WASHINGTON -- The federal government will more than triple its grant funding this year for port security in Maryland, providing money for a state-of-the-art video surveillance system and technology to help monitor the thousands of trucks that enter the port of Baltimore each day.

Additional money to protect regional transit is also getting a big boost in the annual grants announced yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security.

Nationwide, federal spending on what the department calls infrastructure protection is increasing 29 percent to $884 million. But, for Maryland, which saw funding slashed in 2007, the increases are still greater: The port security grant jumps from $1.9 million to $6.6 million, 11th-highest among the nation's ports. Also, federal money for transit security in the National Capital Region, which the state will share with the District of Columbia and Virginia, is increasing from $29.3 million to $38.4 million -- second only to the New York City area.

"This announcement acknowledges what we have always known," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said. "Maryland is a critical partner in protecting the country from potential attacks."

After last year's poor showing, when the port suffered a 60 percent cut in grant funding, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency coordinated applications for funds this year, assembling a broader base of beneficiaries that included public and private terminals, the Coast Guard and the Eastern Shore town of Salisbury, Maryland Port Administration spokesman Richard Scher said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley praised the coordinated effort in a statement issued through his spokesman: "I want to commend our state and local homeland security agencies for working together to secure these critical dollars for our port and capital region."

`Good first step'

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and co-chairs the Port Security Caucus, called this year's funding "a good first step."

"This is money to protect critical projects that might have exposure, and clearly the port of Baltimore is our No. 1 economic engine in Maryland," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

The port of Baltimore will use the money to help pay for a $5.5 million-plus video surveillance system that is stalled past its projected launch date of last year, Scher said. The port will help private terminals buy security cameras that could link up with the port's public system. Software improvements will mean better monitoring of cargo and workers through the port.

"A lot of the technology is cutting-edge," Scher said. "But it's clearly not active yet."

Grant money will also be used to train law enforcement officers and improve radio communication and data sharing among agencies, Scher said.

The port came under fire in 2005, when The Sun reported several security lapses, including gaps in fences, and alarms and surveillance cameras that didn't work.

But the key federal port security initiative still faces bureaucratic and logistical hurdles. This month, the Transportation Security Administration pushed the enrollment deadline for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential to next April. Electronic card readers designed to read fingerprints embedded in the cards have not been tested through a pilot program.

About 25,000 workers in Baltimore are expected to sign up for identification credentials. Scher said the port would use grant money to purchase card readers, once they become available.

Homeland Security officials granted the port of Baltimore only $1.9 million last year. Congress eventually added $1.8 million, but Baltimore still lagged behind smaller ports considered less vulnerable.

Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, says officials realized they had erred, given the port's proximity to Washington.

"The state and city worked very hard to put in a first-rate application that would support the funding that was needed," Greenberger said. "They worked very hard to make sure that the mistakes made by the federal government were not repeated."

Other awards

In addition to the port security grant and the regional transit security money, the state is getting $1.8 million to build up security around what federal officials call "high-risk, high-consequence" targets. The Buffer Zone Protection Program money can be used for improvements to chemical facilities, power plants, financial institutions, stadiums and dams.

The state will also receive a $5.4 Emergency Management Performance Grant, and three local companies will share more than $220,000 for inter-city bus security.

Golden Ring Travel Inc., which ferries troops to and from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport for the Department of Defense, will use its $96,806 grant to install new security cameras, fencing and gates at its Essex bus terminal, a company official said.

"We move the military around quite a bit," said Cathy Shea, the company's vice president of operations. "That's part of the reason we applied and part of the reason I'm assuming we got the grant."

Keller Transportation Inc., which operates commuter buses in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties for the Maryland Transit Administration, will use a $76,009 award to purchase radio communication and global positioning satellite devices, office manager Barbara Cook said. Hubers Bus Service Inc. will use its $49,974 grant to put up security cameras and lighting at its Glen Burnie bus yard.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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