The big themes of yesterdays meetings were balancing security with an 'open' environment and public-private partnerships, as I so surmised.
At the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Serv Wiemers, director of investment climate and promotion for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, described The Netherlands as the "gateway to Europe" and explained that the country's culture is to be as open as possible. "We are proud to be open," he said, "but of course, security is an issue. We need to find ways to combine security with this open environment." He said the country's perception of security changed following the events of 9/11 and cases of political and animal extremism.
Right now there are 10,000 foreign companies operating here, including Exxon, Coca Cola, Dow, Cisco and IBM. Even Starbucks, which only has about four stores here, set up roasting and storage facilities in the Port of Rotterdam.
Speaking of the port, that was the next stop on yesterday's tour. J. Sjaak Seen, chief safety and operations, with the Rotterdam area Fire Department, discussed the area's "long history of coordination." In 1998, in fact, the city started to combine efforts with local agencies because "if we didn't, we'd get in a lot of trouble." Other areas were not so forward thinking. An explosion at a firework factory in 2007 destroyed a neighborhood and killed 27 people. This served as a "wake-up call. They were asking how do we work together and how should we communicate."
Twenty-five safety areas were developed to integrate police, fire, medical and emergency personnel. Legislation was also drafted to streamline efforts and create organizational boundaries between these parties (that bill will be handled in the next few weeks, Seen said, and is expected to be official then.)
Private companies are involved in this initiative, including many chemical firms in the area. A regional dispatch center funnels information to police, fire and EMS in the event of an incident. Seen said they are working on the project to be able to link video and other sensor data to it. "This is still growing and expanding," he said. "Verifying information is the most critical thing you need. [We are] busy all the time working with these proactive movements."
Safety is a main priority at the port for obvious reasons and others. "If the harbor is not safe enough, economics will drop. The Netherlands would than suffer from lack of safety measures," he said.
J.C. Lems, director/chief harbor master/port security officer for the Port of Rotterdam, said port security is more than the terrorism component. It is also focused on small scale incidents, such as the number of suicide attempts that occur each year.
But the big issue continues to be keeping aware of what is entering and exiting the port on a regular basis. "The most important thing is who and what is at the terminal. Each terminal conducts an individual risk analysis," he said. There are currently 160 terminals at the Port of Rotterdam.
It currently scans 5 percent to 10 percent of its cargo with fixed portals as well as mobile scanning equipment. These containers are chosen for screening based on a risk analysis conducted by Customs. "Customs used to be heavily focused on goods," Lems said, "but now that has changed to how processes are secured."
In the Harbor Coordination Center, video walls are used to provide officers with situational data. The walls list each ship that is coming into or leaving the port as well as others anchored offshore. The data is received from the boats themselves, who are required to notify the port of their presence, or through radar. On the video wall, each boat is coordinated in a selected color to let officers know their risk-status. Red, for example, means dangerous goods are on board, brown dictates explosives, blue indicates a tanker with liquid cargo and green show these vessels carry no dangerous goods. "It is important to know what boats and cargo are in the area," he said. "We don't have a contained area. We do all we can to keep it safe."