The Little Rock Port Authority plans to begin installing a new security system this summer, a project funded in part by a $570,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in January.
Bryan Day, the executive director of the port, said the $900,000 system will be installed by Homeland Safety Systems of Shreveport.
Day said the system is not needed because of any crime problems at the 4,000-acre port, where 7,000 are employed across 45 businesses. The worst problem, Day said, is people driving too fast.
So why the security system upgrade?
Well, it is a good idea for relatively low costs. And if the port can upgrade its security system, it will be able to handle more sensitive material.
After Timothy McVeigh used a fertilizer bomb in 1995 to murder 168 people at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the federal government increased regulations for ports that stored materials that could be dangerous. Day said the Little Rock Port used to have tons of the stuff on site.
“There are certain commodities in the supply chain, chemicals and explosive-type materials that we are not allowed to handle because we don’t have all the security parameters in place,” Day said. “We chose to not make that investment. Having this system in place, I’m not saying we would get back into that business, but it does allow us to show Homeland Security and the Coast Guard that we can handle it.
“This system will be just one more tool in our toolbox to show partners that the supply chain remains safe.”
Day said the system will involve between 15 and 25 cameras installed on the docks, warehouse and railyard of the port and will be used in cooperation with the Little Rock Police Department. The cameras will not be actively monitored but data recorded will be stored to be available if needed.
“It will be mostly virtual,” Day said. “It’s going to be technological security, not the hard barriers and things like that because we have that in place.”
Day said once Homeland Safety Systems installs the system, the port will own it and manage it. Day said he doesn’t expect any additional hirings to staff the high-tech system, which will include license-plate readers to record who enters and leaves the facility. If a license plate that is reported stolen is identified, the Police Department will be notified to follow up.
The cameras will also have the ability to recognize if a traffic light is malfunctioning or an accident has caused a traffic problem.
“The system will be primarily forensic,” Day said. “There will be a large bank of monitors. Those will be installed in our office and in our main dock offices. Staff will be able to watch them, but we will not sit there and watch them all day long.”
Day said the port doesn’t have much attraction for thieves.
“The good news is we have very little crime out here at the port,” Day said. “We have some speeding. We had some caravaning last year. It is probably one of the safest areas in the city so the security system will help monitor all of that.
“All of the material we handle — rock, sand, scrap metal, gravel — they’re not target areas. I do not ever think the Port of Little Rock will be a high-target area for theft or violence. We are not handling the commodities. The materials we handle are not attractive to common thieves.”
The Homeland Security money is among the nearly $10 million in state and federal grants the port has received in the last five years.
Previous grants include $6.2 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant fund, which helped pay for infrastructure investments at the Slackwater Harbor and increased rail capacity. At the end of 2021, the port received $3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation Port Infrastructure Development Grant to help replace 15 unsafe deadman anchors and install 32 more dolphin moorings.
Day said he hopes Congress will continue to invest in port and rail infrastructure.
“The return on the public’s investment is great — a 2020 study on the five-year impact of spending in the port estimated an overall economic impact of $1 billion dollars, with a $462 million impact on GDP, $269 million on labor incomes, and a $367 million impact on taxes,” Day said in a statement.