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.
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.
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.
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.
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.