SSA Launches Plan to Tighten Security
By JULIA WELLS
The Steamship Authority will spend about $200,000 this summer to boost security on ferries and at boat line terminals on the Cape and Islands.
Senior managers at the SSA said this week that they are trying to incorporate a new awareness about safety and security into operations at the public boat line, although it is still unclear how much can be done that is meaningful - and also legal.
SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin and director of operations James Swindler both said this week that state police are now stationed at all six terminals for 12 hours a day. Two weeks ago, terminal employees went through a four-hour training session on security and awareness. Another session will be held in the near future for vessel employees, including pilots, captains and pursers.
Mr. Swindler said the training took place over four days and involved about 225 employees. Coast Guard port security officers assisted with the training.
"We think that it is kind of key to make sure that the people who work for us at our terminals and on our vessels are aware of what is going on - they are the eyes and ears," he said.
"We're still learning, but everyone is watchful," said Mr. Raskin. "It's little steps, little feet, but we'll get there and get better at it.
"I'm still trying to understand what the nature of a terrorist attack on a Steamship Authority ferry would be," he added.
Mr. Raskin and Mr. Swindler said state troopers will not perform random searches in the trunks of cars, because of possible legal issues associated with such searches.
Random car searches were being conducted in the Washington state ferry system, but the searches were recently suspended after they were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"It's all a little unclear right now, so the state police do not want to get involved in that," Mr. Raskin said.
What is clear is the cost to the boat line.
Mr. Raskin said the SSA is paying some $34 an hour - about $2,300 a day - to the state police for coverage, which is now in effect seven days a week, and will continue that way through the peak summer months. At the current rates, the cost could easily amount to $200,000 or more, he said.
"It's not insignificant," he said. The SSA recently was awarded $8,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve security at the Hyannis terminal, but Mr. Raskin said that money will be a drop in the bucket.
What does the boat line get for the money it spends on security?
"It's a good question. We may be getting very little, but it's better than nothing," said Mr. Raskin. "It's mostly visual," he added.
He said the boat line may decide at some point in the future to switch from the state police to private detectives. "If we decide to do random searches we may ultimately have to move to private detectives so we can feel less encumbered," he said
Mr. Swindler said the SSA is also considering using boat line employees wearing customer service jerseys to conduct random searches. "We're going to test it a little bit in the next couple of weeks - this is more to send a message that we are looking, and of course it has to be purely random," he said.
Mr. Swindler and Mr. Raskin both recounted an incident that took place in Woods Hole last week when a man was seen looking at the freight ferry Sankaty for a long time. Mr. Swindler said the man left the terminal area and then returned and appeared to be doing some kind of "surveillance" on the Sankaty.
The man was questioned by boat line employees, and it turned out that he was simply a passenger who was milling around waiting for the boat.
Mr. Swindler said the customer who was questioned had a mixed reaction.
"In one way he was offended, and in another way he was complimented," Mr. Swindler said.
Mr. Swindler said the boat line is also exploring the possibility of using canines trained to sniff explosives.
"It's a time-consuming subject, and it's also an interesting one," he said.
He also said: "We have no reason to believe at all right now there is any threat, but we do believe that this is important."