Port steps up security

The Baltimore Sun

The port of Baltimore, which a year ago was criticized by the Coast Guard for shortcomings in security, has been given "near perfect" marks in its most recent review, according to the federal agency.

Capt. Brian Kelley, the chief Coast Guard officer at the port, said the Maryland Port Administration has made significant strides in correcting the security flaws found in a 2007 inspection.

Kelley did not quantify the two reports on any scale but said the more recent exam had yielded a "much shorter list" of security defects and that most of them had been "corrected right on the spot."

The Coast Guard comments came at a news conference yesterday at the South Locust Point Marine Terminal, during which Gov. Martin O'Malley released the state's new assessment of Maryland's emergency preparedness efforts and outlined measures officials will take to respond to the findings.

The report, prepared for the state by the consulting firm run by former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt, identified numerous potential vulnerabilities in Maryland's plans for dealing with man-made and natural disasters.

Witt, who won accolades for his performance when he ran FEMA during the Clinton administration, said O'Malley has acted on many of the recommendations. The governor called the report "a tough, extensive assessment of both our strengths and our weaknesses."

Responding to one of the recommendations, O'Malley said he would ask the General Assembly to pass a bill to ensure that the director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency reports directly to the governor as a way to end confusion about which agency would take the lead role in a disaster.

Among the improvements O'Malley said his administration has implemented are measures to upgrade security at the port, where The Sun identified numerous lapses after an investigation in 2005. O'Malley characterized the state of security at the port before his tenure as a "Mickey Mouse operation with sleeping guards and wooden decoy cameras."

Administration officials said yesterday that most of the problems identified in The Sun's investigation - including fences in poor repair, fake security cameras, poor lighting and broken security systems - have been addressed.

"Marylanders can be confident in the security of their port and their waters," the Coast Guard's Kelley said.

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