June 10, 2009 By Blake Harris
Harris County Commissioners Court has unanimously approved the creation of the Houston Ship Channel Security District, a public-private partnership that will fund enhancements to security technology, infrastructure and processes along the ship channel.
The security district includes the Port of Houston and more than 100 refinery, chemical and marine facilities which will pay operations and maintenance assessments to the district. These funds supplement more than $31 million in Homeland Security Grants secured by Harris County to install technology and infrastructure to enhance security and increase preparedness and response capability.
In addition to the technology and infrastructure, the security district will also deploy specially trained Harris County Sheriffs Office personnel, marked patrol cars and patrol boats to provide rapid response times and improved communication with security district facilities.
Although primarily intended to deter terrorism, the security district will aslo deter theft and other security and safety issues according to its proponents. The improved processes and technology as well as additional personnel and equipment will be applied during more routine events, such as hurricanes, evacuations, or plant upsets. Plans will mitigate disruptions and help members recover and restore normal operations more quickly, according to district organizers in a news release.
According to the statement, in June 2007, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law House Bill 3011 authored by State Representative Wayne Smith and sponsored by State Senator Mike Jackson, which authorized the creation of the district. The effort also enjoyed bipartisan support from our federal representatives - from Congressman Gene Green who helped get this effort started in the early stages to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in her role as chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection. Commissioner Sylvia R. Garcia and County Judge Ed Emmett pushed through final approval for the security district.
"The bottom line is that this security district makes our residents more secure from homeland security threats to our local industry," explained Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. "Industry, the port, Harris County, the University of Houston, and other local government agencies are working together for a safer and more secure region."
"This district creates a partnership that will definitely produce results," said Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 Sylvia R. Garcia. "The nature of securing our region from harm is so complex that we need this district to ensure that we are all on the same page in providing the most comprehensive safety net with the dollars we have."
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia added, "This initiative will facilitate communication and cooperation among local law enforcement jurisdictions and the private sector to better protect this vital area of our community."
An essential part of the plan is cooperation between government agencies and private industries located in the aera. "Competitive cooperation is easier said than achieved. However, in an area such as the security of the Port of Houston, there can be no weak link in the chain," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Bill Diehl. "Every facility must cooperate and contribute to harden the port from terrorists. That is why I feel this port has been very fortunate to have the University of Houston's Southwest Public Technology Center and, specifically, its director, Mr. Pat Bellamy, guiding the creation of the district."
Emmett also noted that the leadership shown by the Center and Bellamy in particular was crucial to making the port security district an important part of this region's homeland security efforts.