City to boost security with $50K grant

Bomb detectors, security camera among possible purchases with federal money

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The city may bolster its waterfront defenses against crime and terrorism this tourist season with bomb-detection devices and yet another camera to capture suspicious activity at the cruise ship docks.

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Juneau emergency projects manager Michael Patterson received a $50,000 grant from Alaska's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to purchase radios, explosives detectors and a security camera at Juneau's cruise ship dock.

"We are constantly looking at ways to improve security and readiness following the Sept. 11 (2001) attacks," Patterson said. "These are some of the recommendations by professionals."

The cost is $25,000 for two explosive-vapor detectors; $15,000 for improved radios; and $10,000 for the security camera, Patterson said. Docks and Harbors personnel will use the explosive-vapor detectors to check passengers on a random basis when they are reboarding the ships, he said.

"They may wipe down bags, backpacks and purses," Patterson said. "Any residue from explosives would emit certain gases that the machine can detect."

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The Juneau Assembly must approve the appropriation of the funds. The ordinance will be open for public hearing at Monday's Assembly meeting.

About 900,000 people are expected to arrive via cruise ships this tourist season, Port Director John Stone said. The first ship is slated to arrive May 3.

"All of the work that the Department of Homeland Security has done would indicate that we are one of the top 15 cruise ship docks in the world," Stone said. "If you are a terrorist and interested in terror, or in ports, this is one of the ports you might consider."

Patterson said the additional camera will make it safer for ships and tourists. The camera will record 24 hours a day, he said. It may be monitored live, or reviewed later, he said.

"It may be looked at in the morning to see who has been lurking around the docks and looking suspicious, or if a suspicious backpack was set down," Patterson said. "It is both a prevention and investigation tool."

A surveillance system is already in place at Marine Park to watch some of the cruise ship docks, said Dwight Tajon, downtown operations supervisor for Docks and Harbors. He would not disclose the number of cameras or locations, citing security reasons, but did say the current system can accommodate 16. No arrests have been made as a result of the cameras, he added.

Some city leaders seem to accept the cameras with reluctance.

"That's the way we are heading, like in many other places," Assembly member Merrill Sanford said. "It is sad, but even happening in the Bush, where remote cameras capture sea lions in their denning places for study and management purposes."

Recently Dillingham was embroiled in a controversy when it was revealed there were 80 surveillance cameras installed around the town and at its port. Dillingham has a population of 2,400. The cameras were purchased with grant money from the Department of Homeland Security.

Sanford said this was just "way too many cameras."

"I believe in independence and freedoms, which is why I am here," Sanford said. "This is an extreme case (in Dillingham), but sometimes on a lesser scale things like these are necessary for security."

Surveillance cameras arrived last year at the Auke Bay ferry terminal and eight other Alaska terminals so the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can keep an eye on anything suspicious. The federal department funded the cameras.

The cost of the systems at each terminal was $50,000. The federal government also gave the city $20,000 to buy Jersey barriers, which are concrete dividers, to place in front of the Governor's Mansion and the Alaska Capitol.



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