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The Port of Montreal Buys into a Culture of Safety

Roughly 2,500 trucks enter and exit the Port of Montreal on a typical day, delivering or picking up cargo to distribute throughout the region. Inevitably, drivers end up waiting their turn—idling in their trucks in the port for an hour or more before heading on their way. But a new initiative helps truckers save time and limits CO2 emissions in the staging area, while also improving security and port operations.

The Montreal Port Authority—which has jurisdiction for the port—is using a centralized security and access management system supplemented with biometrics for improved identification surety to detect potential traffic bottlenecks before they become a problem, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Every piece of the 35 million tons of cargo that passes through the port per year is entered into a credentialing system that is integrated with the port’s mobile booking system, all part of a new security and access management system.

The mobile booking system allows truck drivers to receive their pickup assignments virtually through a mobile app before arriving at the port. Drivers can use the app to request a pickup time and receive updates on wait times for their pickup, so they can proactively optimize their schedules.

Utilizing these features also enables drivers to fill out required paperwork for pickups before arriving at the port. Drivers can then turn in their completed paperwork and speed up the identity verification process on site, which is done through fingerprint biometrics, a card credential, and license plate analysis to prevent driver or vehicle swapping.

All these features, combined, accelerate the cargo pick-up process and save each driver approximately 10 minutes per trip. They also enable every party to win. Drivers save time and fuel. A custody record keeps track of containers—from the ship to the terminal to the truck—to aid investigations if a container is lost. And air pollution at the port is reduced.

This is just one of many win–win initiatives that Port Security and Fire Prevention Director Felixpier Bergeron has implemented to improve security throughout the port—while gaining buy-in along the way.

Because Bergeron is responsible for three major port functions—security, hazmat, and ground traffic in the port—he has visibility into nearly every business unit on the property. This enables him to take a more holistic view when implementing new measures at the port.

“I’m not pushing security, I’m pushing safety,” Bergeron says. “Security is paramount, but people have a natural resistance to security—even honest people don’t like security because it’s a form of control. That’s human nature. But if you talk to them about safety, they’re more than willing to help. It’s the same thing with intruders; if [port workers] see somebody cross the railroad tracks or the Port Road, it’s for that person’s safety that they report it because they don’t want that person killed by a train or a truck or somebody else by accident.”

With this frame of mind, port employees see intruders less as dangerous criminals than as ignorant or oblivious bumblers; people who wandered into the port to take photos by the water, go fishing, or see the ships up close. Therefore, port employees are more likely to report incidents for the intruders’ own good.

When Bergeron joined the Montreal Port Authority in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he established a port-wide ID card program. He pitched the program to employees as a “Road Pass”—a card that would grant them faster access to the Port Road shortcut throughout the facility.

The program would also keep unvetted outsiders off the property for their own safety, saving port workers the emotional trauma of injuring or killing someone who was never supposed to be on the property in the first place. There had been a few near misses before the program was implemented, so Bergeron says employees saw the potential value right away.

“I didn’t have a revolt; it went smoothly,” he adds.

Framing security efforts as safety initiatives made a world of difference when getting employees’ long-term participation. Think of a two-by-four plank of wood, Bergeron says. Whether it falls by accident from a second-floor or is swung by another human, the plank poses the same viable risk to the people nearby—a cracked skull. However, employees are more likely to shrug off the likelihood that someone will pick up the board and attack them than the notion that a precariously placed beam will fall and cause an injury. The risk of an accident gets their attention and participation more readily than the thought of an attacker, he says.

The same principle applies to a container of dangerous material. The container must be kept at a precise temperature of -10 Celsius to maintain the stability of the material, but if the temperature is cranked up to +10 Celsius, the container could explode—whether it was tampered with accidentally or on purpose.

“The same thing is going to happen—the container’s going to blow. So, we have to have procedures and work habits in place, making sure everybody double-checks what should be done to ensure safety. An intentional mistake would be caught through the procedures, because somebody was always double-checking to make sure the job was done correctly,” Bergeron says.

“If you talk about terrorism, people don’t believe it, because the last time a terrorist attack happened was almost 10 years ago; they don’t believe in it anymore. But they believe in safety because they live it,” he adds.

Even disciplinary action follows a safety perspective. A driver or port employee who is caught driving unsafely within the port is not ticketed or fined, but he or she will have his or her Port Road Pass suspended. This extends the offender’s commute an extra 20 minutes or more each day on public roads to prevent him or her from endangering other port employees. A fine of $50 for reckless driving pales in comparison to the time and money a trucker would lose by having to take public roads into the port each day.

While Bergeron and the Montreal Port Authority security team strive to maintain awareness of activity throughout the 12-mile-long facility, there are approximately 37,000 people with access to the port, and it is a fine balance to maintain awareness without impeding the flow of traffic and business, Bergeron adds.

Another challenge is the configuration of the port itself. While the port’s perimeter has multiple buffer zones between the public and any cargo—including fencing, four railroad tracks, a three-lane port road, and another layer of fencing—it still butts up against a Montreal city street.

“We’re very close to the population, so we have to be proactive to make sure that anything that happens in the port doesn’t spill out in the city,” Bergeron says.

All cargo is screened for radiation, as mandated by the government. All security vehicles are equipped with radiation detectors, and all containers are screened when they come into the port.

Part of that proactive strategy involves memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with first responders around the port, including the Canadian Coast Guard and four fire stations. Each of the fire stations is invited into the port annually for a different simulation or exercise specific to the port, such as a fire on a ship, an operator stuck in a crane, or a fire in a grain elevator—which requires a foam-based fire suppression technique due to its highly explosive nature.

The repeated and regular training helps to address any turnover in the fire stations, while familiarizing the first responders with operations in the port—another win–win choice.

“We are more proactive than reactive to a situation,” Bergeron adds. “That’s how I tried to mitigate the risk; I’m trying to anticipate what can be done to move the risk away.”

Within the Port of Montreal, there are approximately 20 independent facilities. While some are covered by marine security regulations, all of them fall under the port security plan. Each facility manages its own security and has the leeway to tweak the port security plan in a way that works for it.

For example, some facilities may choose to exceed the port’s video recording retention time, but they all start from the same plan.

Getting buy-in for this program was easy, Bergeron says, because he saved the facilities the trouble of writing their own compliant security plans. If a facility’s security drops below the standard required in the port plan—such as not actively managing access or monitoring gates—Bergeron is authorized to send a port security officer to monitor the area, and the facility would be required to foot the bill.

The port’s video surveillance system is integrated with camera systems from tenant facilities, neighbors, partners, and the Coast Guard, effectively tripling the Montreal Port Authority’s domain awareness. “It’s a win–win partnership,” Bergeron adds.

Port employees are aware of the level of video surveillance on site. Due to the safety-focused culture at the port, however, they understand that the cameras are there to watch for unsafe activity or intruders who may be at risk—not to monitor employees’ work or break habits.

“I have patrolmen going around monitoring for security, I have cameras monitoring, but I also have the port workers—the equipment operators or the maintenance people—to be the eyes of security,” Bergeron says. “So, if they see somebody or something that looks peculiar, they just call the control center, and the control center looks at the cameras or calls a nearby patrolman to see what’s going on.”

“We don’t hide the fact that this is security, but the main purpose is to save somebody,” Bergeron says.


The Color of Security

To improve safety and security awareness in the port, color-coded lights and badges help workers quickly identify and react to potential hazards or intruders.

In a loud environment like the Port of Montreal, which has 2 million machines working at once, utilizing visual cues instead of audible alerts cuts through the noise.

A system of lights throughout the port alerts workers to potentially hazardous situations so they can respond accordingly: a red light means there is a life-threatening situation like a hazmat incident, a white light means a security alert, a yellow light means maintenance is needed, and a green light signals that everything is working properly, but the machinery is on and operational.
ID cards are also color-coded to help port workers identify a person’s role at a glance. For example, a blue badge indicates a government employee, a green badge indicates a terminal operator, a purple badge indicates a contractor, a yellow badge indicates a trucker, and a gray badge identifies a longshoreman.

This system enables workers to quickly determine if someone does not belong in an area, and they can report the access before the person is injured or causes any harm.


Claire Meyer is managing editor of Security Management. Connect with her on LinkedIn or contact her at [email protected].