Providence, R.I., Builds on Port Security With Chemical Sensors

Sensors will add chemical data to Rhode Island's common operating picture.

by / August 19, 2010
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"You can actually see a ship moving and then click on that ship and see what the name of it is, where it came from, where it's going [and] what it's carrying," -- PEMA Director Peter Gaynor (pictured on left with Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline)

Three new chemical sensors were installed at the Port of Providence in Rhode Island on Aug. 16. The sensors will be integrated with the city's existing Port Area Waterside Surveillance System (PAWSS), providing chemical sensor data to the state's common operating picture. The Providence Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) is funding the $593,000 project with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The surveillance project began in 2006 when the state's Department of Environmental Management used a port security grant to place cameras and maritime radar on the lower part of Narragansett Bay. Providence later received another grant to complete video coverage of the bay and install additional radar. Now PAWSS covers an area from the southern entrance of the bay 25 miles north to the port

PAWSS is built on Raytheon's Athena information collection and analysis suite, providing access to the cameras, radar, sensors (Smiths Detection Centurion II) and the port's Automatic Identification System in one place. "You can actually see a ship moving and then click on that ship and see what the name of it is, where it came from, where it's going [and] what it's carrying," said PEMA Director Peter Gaynor.

The sensors detect industrial chemicals and common chemical warfare agents, and are equipped with video cameras. "Part of determining whether it's a false hit is a camera turns on the potential plume to see if it was, say a truck driving by," Gaynor said.

The sensors couldn't cover the entire port, so PEMA conducted surveys and surveillance to find the best locations. "We have an intersection at the perimeter of the port where we have a pretty highly traveled secondary road," he said. "People coming out of the city, passengers coming going to work; that's mixed with commercial trucks carrying all sorts of stuff, which is bisected by a rail line. That may be a good place to put a sensor and a camera."

Community Chemical Notification

Once the chemical sensors have been installed and tested, the sensors will be integrated with four notification sirens near the port to automatically alert the community of a release.

Three of the sirens are in Providence, with one on the Johnson & Wales University campus. The fourth siren is south of the port in Cranston.

"We want to take it a step further and have some ability to e-mail those alerts out to stakeholders, police, fire, businesses down there, to give them a heads up in near real time," Gaynor said. He estimated that it would be three or four months before that happened.

The ability to deploy the sirens, PAWSS and chemical sensors is based on a strong partnership between the city, the port, Johnson & Wales University, Cranston and East Providence, Gaynor said. "It's multijurisdictional, so we want to try to create a regional capability," he said.

Right now if there's a chemical release at the port that tenants can't handle, they call 911 and the local fire department responds. Gaynor estimated the time from receipt of the call to when an engine arrives on scene is 10 minutes in a worst-case scenario. "If we can cut that in half, that's significant," he said.