Restoring service quickly would be vital to fending off an attack's
economic repercussions, a think tank says in a report.
WASHINGTON -- Nearly five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, U.S. seaports, such as the huge Long Beach-Los Angeles
complex, remain vulnerable to a terrorist strike that could inflict
billions of dollars in economic loss, a study by a California think
tank warned Tuesday.
But the report released by the Public Policy
Institute of California went beyond the usual advocacy of additional
security measures at the ports to urge authorities to develop
detailed plans to restore service quickly after a terrorist strike.
"No matter what we do to protect the ports, it will not be enough
to ensure -- absolutely -- against an attack at some location," said
Jon Haveman, PPIC program director and co-editor of the 294-page
The ports are a concern because they can serve as conduits into
the country for terrorist weapons and also are attractive targets
for attacks because of the critical role they play in the U.S.
economy, the report noted.
The nation's 361 seaports handle 80 percent of U.S. international
trade measured by weight and 41 percent by value, the report said.
"Temporarily shutting down a major U.S. port could import
significant economic costs throughout not only the United States but
also the world," it said, noting that Osama bin Laden has listed
damaging the American economy as a key goal of al-Qaida's attacks.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combined are the largest
in the United States and the fifth largest in the world based on the
volume of cargo passing through the separately run but adjoining
Including Oakland, the California ports handle 40 percent of the
20 million cargo containers passing through U.S. ports annually. And
they process 43 percent of the foreign-loaded containers, which are
considered the biggest threat for containing a terrorist weapon.
The ultimate fear is that some day one of those large steel
shipping boxes could hide a crude nuclear weapon.
The PPIC report, titled "Protecting the Nation's Seaports:
Balancing Security and Cost," contained presentations by a dozen
experts, most of them from California universities and think tanks.
The experts disagree on the economic impact of a terrorist attack
on a major port. One of the presentations predicted a relatively
small and short-duration economic disruption.
But another estimated that a significant disruption of the Long
Beach-Los Angeles mega-ports could cost the U.S. economy $45 billion
-- with 64 percent of the effect felt within the five-county Los
Angeles metropolitan area -- and the loss of 208,000 jobs, including
101,000 in L.A.
Before the 9-11 attacks, security at the ports was labeled "poor
to fair" and efforts to improve security since then were handicapped
by that previous neglect, the report said.
Tightening security also is made difficult by a number of other
factors, including the huge volume of containers and other cargo,
and jurisdictional conflicts among the federal, state and local
governments and private entities that are involved in major ports'
Because of the complexity of the security challenge at the ports,
the report advocates a "layered defense" including intelligence
collection; cooperation with foreign governments and shipping
interests to extend defense measures far from the U.S. coastline;
tighter control of who has access to the ports and cargo; and
improved technology to screen and track containers.
But the authors argue that all the anti-terrorism efforts have
overlooked the crucial need to be prepared to recover from an attack
and to restore port activities as quickly as possible.
Most emergency response plans at the ports were developed to deal
with natural disasters and are inadequate for a terrorist attack
that could involve a weapon of mass destruction that would make
large areas unapproachable, the report said.