TT Talk - Port and terminal security


Security is key for container terminals and ports generally. The threat horizon is vast, incorporating cargo theft, illicit trades, alongside operational safety and the prevention of terrorist attacks. Inevitably, account is needed of both land and water interfaces.

A primary consideration in the context of security for port operators is the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, a supplement to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention considering maritime security, setting minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and government agencies. 

Dating back to 2004, the ISPS Code ascribes responsibilities to a variety of stakeholders including port personnel, related to detecting threats and taking preventive measures affecting ships or port facilities used in international trade. The code specifies the appointment of a Port Facility Security Officer (PFSO), responsible for the development and maintenance of a Port Facility Security Plan (PFSP).

Barrier fundamentals

Physical security will be a primary consideration. Getting the simple things right, such as perimeter fencing is fundamental. Beyond that will need to be proportionate to the risks assessed, inevitably influenced by volumes, throughput, the type of cargo being handled, the layout of the terminal and the technology available.

There is an array of options and combinations to consider for perimeter fences; some designs may be more secure than others. It is recommended that palisade style fencing, for instance, be avoided as it may be more easily manipulated allowing access. A mesh style of fencing is generally thought to offer greater levels of security. The height of the perimeter fence is another critical factor, influenced by the local topography. A minimum two meter height is recommended to deter bad actors from scaling or being able to pass items over. Higher fences or topping with electric fencing or razor wire for added security may need to be considered.


Controlling access is a necessary starting point; strict access controls will assist in managing the flow of people, legitimate and otherwise to the facility. Thus, reduce the number of physical entry and exit points to the minimum necessary. Alongside this, consider how such areas will be monitored and managed. This includes the extent to which security personnel will be deployed, introduction of physical barriers, and what logs will be kept and for how long.

Strict access controls will assist in managing the flow of people, legitimate and otherwise to the facility

There will typically be a large number of restricted areas, buildings and rooms within a facility, where locks are utilised to prevent unauthorised access. Regardless of who may have them, robust processes are necessary to ensure that keys are returned and controlled, with timely intervention protocols.

Key control and operational efficiencies may be significantly improved by the implementation of electromechanical key systems; these remove the risk of lost or stolen keys and security compromises, while providing valuable user data for management and control. Central programming ensures efficient and speedy modification of access permissions. Further smart and high security locks may be appropriate.

Line of sight

The deployment of cameras can add to security provisions and can have dual benefits. Sophisticated camera systems monitoring the entry gate can serve not only to record access, but also capture the condition of the vehicle, container, chassis and cargo. All such records might prove invaluable evidence in the event of any dispute.

Cameras can also be linked to the Terminal Operator System (TOS) and, using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, can drive the development of operational efficiencies, identifying and locating individual containers. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras can identify expected site visitors, providing both security and efficiency, potentially controlling the release of vehicles and containers with a binary “release, don’t release” prerogative. 

Visual analytics software can provide unrivalled insight, including managing the movement of visitors, restricting and controlling the areas of the facility that they are able to access. Additionally, if linked to the relevant authority and national databases, this could serve to identify bad actors and vehicles operating on false registration plates, often used to facilitate theft of cargo.

Thermal cameras are now being used for both security and fire detection. These may eliminate the need for continuous monitoring of cameras by alerting security personnel at the point of detection due to a fire or a person.

CCTV cameras and software can also provide a deterrent to bad actors. However, take care to ensure that the procured system is fit for purpose, well maintained and that operators are trained to use the equipment proficiently. And don’t forget simple housekeeping – overgrown foliage or litter can trigger unwelcome false alarms.

Take care to ensure that the procured system is fit for purpose, well maintained and that operators are trained to use the equipment proficiently


Some facilities might fall under the jurisdiction of the port police; regardless, working closely with local law enforcement will be vitally important. While operation specific security measures should always be implemented, interacting with port police or other local law enforcement agencies will be beneficial in ‘layering’ protections.

Technology can provide advanced levels of security. Drones are a recent addition to the security managers’ armoury – these may provide remote and autonomous surveillance, supplementing existing people and processes. Capable of deploying either to a set time period, randomly or in reaction to an alarm, security drones can capture valuable footage – and operating at height provides a barrier for intervention.

Technologies are likely to overcome the human, moral hazard. This can be further enhanced, for example with forensic coding security solutions – gels, sprays and liquids can be an effective deterrent, remaining on clothing and skin for prolonged periods, and thus increasing the risk of apprehension. This may be during questioning in relation to unconnected crimes, since those involved in criminal activity in and around ports will typically be involved in other crime.

Information security

Insider risk is prevalent within TT’s claims experience; information is the lifeblood of criminal activity and can be sourced from within an operation. This may be access codes, the location of a particular container or details of security provisions on site.

Information is the lifeblood of criminal activity and can be sourced from within an operation

Information security is a critical. Carry out a risk assessment of the information that your operation collects, stores and shares. Recognise the value of that information in the wrong hands and consider thoroughly who has access and why, balancing access restrictions with operational efficiency. Prevent workstation sharing or sharing of passwords. 

The terminal operating system (TOS) is pivotal in the management of the container terminal. Protecting this key infrastructure is critical to maintain operational integrity and avoid business disruption.


If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any others who you may feel would be interested.


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Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director