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PHOTO COURTESY OF DP World London Gateway​

Preventing Port Problems

​More than 90 percent of global trade is carried by sea, according to the International Maritime Organization, presenting a cost-effective method for goods to be shipped around the world. 

One port that brings goods closer to customers, resulting in savings, is London Gateway, a deep-sea shipping port owned by DP (Dubai Ports) World. With 78 terminals in 53 countries globally, DP World is the third largest port operator in the world. 

“One of our customers will save more than £1 million a month, just in transport costs, and take more than 2,500 trucks off the road,” says Colin Hitchcock, harbor master and head of International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) at London Gateway, which is located on the north bank of the River Thames.

But this high transaction rate also presents an opportunity for thieves, making effective security a must to protect the goods being shipped and received. “We’ve been operating about four years now, and the first drug heist was a big deal,” says Hitchcock. “Now it’s sort of two or three times a week, to be honest.”

Drugs are just one of the many security concerns keeping DP World on the lookout. “I have threats of illegal immigrants coming in on ships, I’ve got people trying to break into the port itself to get cargo out of the containers, and then obviously we have cargos of interest that we have to monitor,” Hitchcock says. 

“There’s a big problem with cars stolen-to-order, because we’re only a few miles from London. Basically, you can steal a car, put it in a box, and get it out of the country,” Hitchcock explains, adding that most of the stolen vehicles are headed for West Africa. “You can put two Range Rovers and an E-Class Mercedes dangling in a 40-foot container—so that’s quite big business going out.” 

While London Gateway works closely with law enforcement and global crime agencies to counter these threats, it wanted to invest in a holistic physical security information management (PSIM) system to manage the various assets and operations around the port, which covers seven square miles.  

When Hitchcock was told by the head office in Dubai that he could choose the security systems he needed, he says he was looking for a company that could customize its platform to meet London Gateway’s needs. “Anything we purchased had to be future-proofed and able to grow,” he notes.

In 2016, the port turned to the Converged Security and Information Management (CSIM) software from Vidsys, which brings together multiple sources of data and security information into one platform for situational awareness. 

With CSIM, all of the port’s security and information management systems feed into one platform that provides situational awareness for all security and operations onsite, which include cameras, alarms, sensors, access control systems, and more.

Tying access control into CSIM has allowed the port to manage the various systems that grant or deny access to users throughout the port. “We have three main buildings, and each has its own access control,” Hitchcock says. “We’ve looked at each of the jobs that people do and asked, ‘Where does that person need to go, where does that person not need to go?’”  

He adds that there are 55 different levels of access at the port, and that the server rooms have the most restricted access. “If anyone opens the server rooms an alarm goes off in the control room. We have cameras in there, and that’s automatically monitored from inside,” he says. 

With a multitude of cameras installed on port property, having them all feed into one platform gives operators a comprehensive picture of operations, and allows them to quickly be alerted to possible trespassers. 

The security cameras are set up to overlap coverage by 30 percent so that nothing is missed. “We also do a lighting diagram so there are no shadowy areas,” Hitchcock notes.

Another selling point for London Gateway was the fact that CSIM easily adapts to new systems the port incorporates. “That was one of the other main points with Vidsys—if we introduce new cameras or we introduce a new turnstile system or a new employee management system, the system is able to cope with it,” he notes. 

London Gateway has several security alarms feeding into CSIM, as well as a PID (perimeter intrusion detection) system that runs for 600 meters around the port. When a sensor goes off, it is automatically pulled up in an alerts center. A list of standard operation procedures (SOPs) can be tailored to appear on screen, giving the operator a clear, step-by-step view of how to respond. 

“We have about 30 SOPs that we’ve incorporated,” he says, adding that the procedures are reinforced during drills with police, fire, and emergency services.  

In response to security incidents, Hitchcock says the port has developed an “onion skin” approach, with several layers to detect and mitigate any threats. “We have a perimeter fence, and an outer perimeter fence as well. So if anyone wanted to break in the port they’d have to get through both of those,” he says. 

The next layer, the PID system, is covered by movement sensors and thermal imaging cameras. Should a trespasser trip any of those sensors, flashing blue lights are activated. There are also two drones that fly up and down the fence line and—if the unmanned vehicles spot someone—they begin flashing a blue light located on top. An audio alert plays over a loudspeaker that the party is trespassing. Finally, if these are ignored, a large spotlight targets the threat. 

Recently, CSIM and the port’s multilayered response played a vital role in multiple arrests at London Gateway. A group of trespassers entered the property under the cover of night. “The thermal imaging cameras picked them up, there were two or three people,” Hitchcock says. The blue light and spotlight were both triggered, and the men tried to hide in some bushes. 

Security immediately alerted port guards on site, as well as local law enforcement, who quickly responded. 

With the Vidsys platform, video feeds can be simultaneously watched by law enforcement and the head office in Dubai when there is a security incident. “These poor chaps thought they were attempting to break in, thinking they were very covert, but actually the whole world—Dubai, Essex Police, U.K. military, and our own security—were all watching them,” Hitchock says. “The system worked very well indeed.”

With plans to expand and handle even more incoming and outgoing cargo, Hitchcock says he knows Vidsys will continue to accommodate London Gateway’s needs. “The big thing we found with Vidsys was its ability to listen, adapt, and incorporate what we wanted, as well as come up with new ideas,” he says. “And that was taken onboard.”

For More Information: Jasmeet Kapoor, [email protected],, 703.883.3730.