Appendix D
Maritime Information Systems
Port of Charleston, South Carolina

Port Characteristics

The Port of Charleston, South Carolina, is the second largest (after New York/New Jersey) container port on the U.S. East Coast. The port serves a brisk trade in container, bulk, and chemical products at both private and public terminals along the banks of two of the three rivers that converge at the port. A growing volume of vessel traffic poses challenges with regard to physical space, traffic management, and information systems that will have to be solved for the port to grow, remain competitive, and operate safely. In this way, Charleston is representative of many U.S. ports.

As a river port, Charleston is affected by seasonal flow levels of the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers, as well as twice-daily variations in ocean tides. The interaction of flowing, freshwater rivers with ocean tidal fluctuations generates unpredictable currents. Silting from the rivers creates a constant need to maintain berth and channel depths. In addition, differences in water temperatures contribute to seasonal fog.

Most of the private berths and all three public terminals are located very close to dense population centers. The Columbus Street terminal is approximately one mile from the Charleston city center. The city's status as a major tourist attraction has generated a great deal of concern about the presence of oil, chemicals, and hazardous commodities and the potential threats these materials represent to nearby residents, tourists, and the environment.

Protection of the environment is a serious matter to the citizens of Charleston. The tourist industry is based in large measure on the scenic beauty of the city, the harbor, and rivers. Wildlife is abundant and varied. A substantial boating industry and thriving commercial fishing industry use the port, rivers, and the surrounding coastal areas. Aqua-culture is being developed nearby, and seafood is a staple of Carolina low-country diets.

Maritime Information Systems

In June 1996, a work group of the Committee on Maritime Advanced Information Systems interviewed representatives of 16 organizations1 with interests in port activities to determine the capabilities and deficiencies of the information systems. Based on the information collected, the work group made the following general observations:

  • No single resource or authority is responsible for coordinating or promoting the use of advanced information technology in the Port of Charleston.
  • A wide range of relevant and important information is available, but it is not being fully exploited to optimize the safety and efficiency of maritime transportation.
  • Stakeholders are generally satisfied with the quality and amount of information they receive or have access to, but they believe that current levels will not be adequate in the future as the port expands. They say additional relevant, real-time information would be useful now, but only if it is selective and easy to obtain. All stakeholders acknowledge that advanced navigation and information systems would enhance the safety and efficiency of what is generally considered a safe and well run port.
  • With the exception of the port's Orion system for processing U.S. Customs Service data, very little information is exchanged among stakeholders by computer or

1  

Charleston Port Authority; Sea-Land Service, Inc.; Carolina Shipping Co.; Charleston Marine Exchange; Charleston Harbor Pilots; Charleston harbormaster; U.S. Coast Guard; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Weather Service; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Customs Service; U.S. Naturalization and Immigration Service; Carolina Port Police; Mount Pleasant Fire Department; Coastal Carolina Council; and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.



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--> Appendix D Maritime Information Systems Port of Charleston, South Carolina Port Characteristics The Port of Charleston, South Carolina, is the second largest (after New York/New Jersey) container port on the U.S. East Coast. The port serves a brisk trade in container, bulk, and chemical products at both private and public terminals along the banks of two of the three rivers that converge at the port. A growing volume of vessel traffic poses challenges with regard to physical space, traffic management, and information systems that will have to be solved for the port to grow, remain competitive, and operate safely. In this way, Charleston is representative of many U.S. ports. As a river port, Charleston is affected by seasonal flow levels of the Ashley, Cooper, and Wando rivers, as well as twice-daily variations in ocean tides. The interaction of flowing, freshwater rivers with ocean tidal fluctuations generates unpredictable currents. Silting from the rivers creates a constant need to maintain berth and channel depths. In addition, differences in water temperatures contribute to seasonal fog. Most of the private berths and all three public terminals are located very close to dense population centers. The Columbus Street terminal is approximately one mile from the Charleston city center. The city's status as a major tourist attraction has generated a great deal of concern about the presence of oil, chemicals, and hazardous commodities and the potential threats these materials represent to nearby residents, tourists, and the environment. Protection of the environment is a serious matter to the citizens of Charleston. The tourist industry is based in large measure on the scenic beauty of the city, the harbor, and rivers. Wildlife is abundant and varied. A substantial boating industry and thriving commercial fishing industry use the port, rivers, and the surrounding coastal areas. Aqua-culture is being developed nearby, and seafood is a staple of Carolina low-country diets. Maritime Information Systems In June 1996, a work group of the Committee on Maritime Advanced Information Systems interviewed representatives of 16 organizations1 with interests in port activities to determine the capabilities and deficiencies of the information systems. Based on the information collected, the work group made the following general observations: No single resource or authority is responsible for coordinating or promoting the use of advanced information technology in the Port of Charleston. A wide range of relevant and important information is available, but it is not being fully exploited to optimize the safety and efficiency of maritime transportation. Stakeholders are generally satisfied with the quality and amount of information they receive or have access to, but they believe that current levels will not be adequate in the future as the port expands. They say additional relevant, real-time information would be useful now, but only if it is selective and easy to obtain. All stakeholders acknowledge that advanced navigation and information systems would enhance the safety and efficiency of what is generally considered a safe and well run port. With the exception of the port's Orion system for processing U.S. Customs Service data, very little information is exchanged among stakeholders by computer or 1   Charleston Port Authority; Sea-Land Service, Inc.; Carolina Shipping Co.; Charleston Marine Exchange; Charleston Harbor Pilots; Charleston harbormaster; U.S. Coast Guard; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Weather Service; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Customs Service; U.S. Naturalization and Immigration Service; Carolina Port Police; Mount Pleasant Fire Department; Coastal Carolina Council; and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

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--> the Internet. Most information exchanges take place by fax, with telephone calls and mailed newsletters as alternatives. With the exception of the Orion system, most stakeholders use hardware and software that meets their own information needs. Very little, if any, consideration has been given to developing information systems that are accessible by other local port stakeholders or are network compatible. No single organization is capable of developing an overarching port information infrastructure without substantial financial and technical assistance from other sources. Information Systems by Organization U.S. Coast Guard In Charleston, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) fulfills its traditional roles and is an active participant in most port advisory committees. Charleston does not have a vessel traffic services (VTS) system and is not a candidate for a VTS system in the eyes of either the USCG or the local port community. Except in emergencies, vessel traffic management is left to the pilots and waterways users. The USCG does provide some real-time information services within the port. When notified that a navigational aid is extinguished, missing, or improperly located, the USCG notifies waterways users through the local navigational warning broadcasts on radio channel 22A. If they miss the broadcast, then waterways users can obtain the information by calling the local USCG office, accessing the NAVINFONET, or reading the next Notice to Mariners. (The USCG reports the problem to the Miami office for inclusion in the notices, which are updated weekly and mailed to subscribers.) The Charleston USCG office is creating a Web site and intends to include some of this information. Most port stakeholders say that timely reporting of this information is a low priority. The USCG appears on all the National Weather Service (NWS) severe weather warning checklists and can rebroadcast information as a navigational warning as well as take the appropriate actions regarding waterways safety. U.S. Customs Service The U.S. Customs Service, working with the port authority, has been a leader in using advanced technology to promote efficiency. This agency has long collected cargo manifests electronically and provided pre-arrival and departure clearances of cargo, either through its own automated systems or through the Charleston Port Authority's Orion System (described below). The U.S. Customs Service appears to be moving steadily toward a paperless system that takes full advantage of available technology. National Weather Service The Charleston office of the NWS serves the local maritime community in a number of ways. It provides the forecast information for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio broadcasts, including a specific Charleston harbor forecast. Weather forecasts can also be obtained by telephone recordings, which are updated several times a day. The Charleston station is manned around the clock and accepts calls requesting information. The office maintains four severe weather warning call lists: (1) a special marine warning checklist, (2) a winter storm/high winds watch/warning checklist, (3) a tornado/ severe thunderstorm/flash flood watch/warning checklist, and (4) a coastal flood watch/warning checklist. The USCG, harbor pilots, and South Carolina Ports Authority appear on every checklist and are contacted by the NWS whenever severe weather is forecasted. Conditions favorable for harbor and coastal fog are also relayed to the checklist participants. The NWS provides their weather radar picture to several approved and contracted vendors, which market the image and information to the maritime community. Updated radar information can be viewed on a computer monitor in near real-time. The pilots were the only stakeholders interviewed who used this service. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers generates considerable waterways information. The Corps is involved in several proposed dredging projects, and the hydrographic information generated is made available to the Charleston maritime community by mail. Charleston Port Authority The Charleston Port Authority uses its Orion System for U.S. Customs Service pre-arrival and departure clearances, as well as for inventory control. Initially, stakeholder participation in Orion was mandatory in the port. However, the system has since been eclipsed by the U.S. Customs Service's systems, and larger commercial stakeholders can now bypass Orion and go directly to these more sophisticated systems for clearance. Smaller commercial stakeholders who cannot afford a direct Customs interface still use Orion. The port authority intends to upgrade this prototype system and perhaps expand its functions to promote efficiency and keep the system viable. Information concerning traffic congestion, berth space, navigational warnings, draft restrictions, and severe weather is gathered and exchanged by telephone and fax on an as-needed basis. The port authority does appear on the NWS severe weather warning lists. The port authority, harbormaster, and pilots coordinate their information by telephone

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--> and fax. The port authority is considering expanding Orion to capture and distribute some of this information to its customers. An advantage of Orion is the capability for local control of the cargo information database. Information passing through Orion is captured, stored, and used for analysis of port activities. Real-time cargo-related information, including a running inventory of hazardous commodities, is also available. Unfortunately, hazardous-cargo information is not readily accessible and is not currently transferable to those responsible for responding to an emergency. For example, in the event of a terminal fire, a list of the hazardous materials currently located in the terminal would have to be printed out by personnel capable of operating the system who would then meet the arriving Mount Pleasant firefighters. It is not clear how well this approach would work in the middle of the night, for example, when no cargo operations were under way. Charleston Harbormaster The Charleston harbormaster, an employee of the South Carolina Ports Authority, coordinates the docking and undocking of vessels calling on Charleston harbor. The harbormaster relies heavily on telephone and fax messages. Although not specifically listed on the NWS severe weather warning call lists, the harbormaster can call the NWS or pilots to ask about weather conditions or can obtain faxed information from the port authority. The harbormaster is in a unique position. In the event of an emergency, this individual is expected to provide information that may, or may not, be obtainable. For example, if a container of hazardous material falls over the side of a vessel docked at a public terminal, then the harbormaster, in conjunction with the port police and USCG, is responsible for the recovery of the container and cargo. Yet there is almost no real-time information available concerning tidal stage or the direction and strength of currents. If spills of hazardous materials are within the harbor or river system they pose a serious threat to the port. The need for improved, real-time hydrographic information was expressed by the harbormaster and others (including pilots, the port authority, and the port police). Charleston Harbor Pilots The information hub in Charleston is the pilots association. Most stakeholders say they obtain waterways and harbor information by telephoning the pilots' office. The pilots are normally the first to report missing or damaged navigational aids. They are also the most well informed sources of information on vessel arrivals, departures, and the immediate status of the harbor. In the absence of a VTS system in Charleston, the pilots have assumed the role of traffic manager, and they play a major part in coordinating the use of local waterways. To handle the growing volume of traffic, the pilots have computerized their operations and maintain a database of customers and their vessels. They can fax vessel arrival and departure information to port stakeholders. They can receive weather information by fax from the NWS and are on the severe weather warning call list. In addition, the pilots subscribe to a third-party weather service that provides video images of local weather that can be viewed on personal computers and are updated hourly. To improve the coordination of vessel arrivals with working pilots, they have extended the operational range of their VHF station out to 250 miles. In addition, they can access real-time information from a NOAA-operated water-level gauge that is linked by a telephone line to the pilots' office. The water-level information is available to anyone who calls. No information on currents is available from this station or anywhere else in the port harbor area. The pilots find themselves playing a public relations role of dispensing waterways information to a wide range of information seekers. The demand for information has been growing along with the port. Therefore, it is no surprise that the pilots support the formation of a local marine exchange that could act as an information broker. Charleston Maritime Association/Marine Exchange The Maritime Association of Charleston is attempting to establish a marine exchange. The concept is still in its early stages, and the services that would be provided have not been fully defined. Supporters of the marine exchange envision an organization that will take the lead in collecting and distributing port-related information and coordinate the various port advisory committees, of which the association is one. Clearly, the attempt to create a marine exchange is directly related to the recognized need among port stakeholders for the expansion, centralization, and management of information. Port advisory committees address common problems in the area. Existing panels include the Port Advisory Committee, Liquid Spillage Control Committee, and Maritime Association (within which the Intermodal, Navigation, and Operations Committee and Hazardous Materials Response Committee operate). Various subcommittees, such as the Vessel Agents Subcommittee, have been established as well. Communication among the various committees, their members, and the larger maritime community takes place during meetings and by telephone, fax, newsletters, and published reports. Computers are used very little. Sea-Land Service, Inc. Sea-Land's Wando Terminal is the East Coast test bed of the company's terminal automated system (TAS). When fully functional, TAS will provide the company with complete gate, yard, and inventory control over containers entering

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--> and leaving the terminal. At the time of the work group's visit, only the shore gate portion of the system was operable. The shore gate consists of 13 unmanned gates. An arriving truck drives into a vacant gate and telephones a checker located in a nearby building. The checker records the trucker's verbal information while using several scanning cameras to enter the container and chassis number into the TAS computer. The information is then fed into the company's mainframe computer, where it can be used as needed for business purposes. Once through the main gate and checked into the TAS, the truck driver proceeds to another gate, where the chassis and container are checked for damage and serviceability. An employee with a hand-held, short-range, radio-equipped computer/transmitter relays the inspection information to the TAS, and the equipment is routed into the yard or a service area. (The hand-held computer/transmitter was unsuccessful in trials.) The number and location of a container in the yard is recorded on paper by individuals driving through the yard. The transfer and loading of containers through the sea gate is also recorded by hand, on paper. The TAS is an in-house system that serves only the container information needs of Sea-Land. Used in conjunction with the mainframe computer, TAS does allow Sea-Land to determine the terminal status of hazardous cargo (although not the exact location of individual containers) and to participate in the port authority's Orion system. Information concerning port traffic congestion, navigational warnings, tides and currents, and severe weather is acquired as needed by telephone, fax, and sometimes local weather and warning broadcasts. Pilots are informed of vessel arrival times by telephone or fax. Sea-Land does not receive the local NWS radar image and is not listed on the severe weather warning list. Carolina Shipping Company Carolina Shipping Company uses the Orion system for U.S. Customs Service activities and, as an agent, operates its own in-house data system. Company officials are satisfied with the way they gather information, even when not electronic. For example, to determine the arrival of a vessel they simply telephone the pilot's office. This works well for them. Representatives of the company expressed little interest in the idea of forming a local marine exchange that would provide information (at a price). They acknowledged that real-time information on navigational restrictions, water depth affecting vessel loading drafts, and severe weather would be of some indirect value to them and would promote a safer port. However, they are most interested in information that would contribute to their business mission and cost effectiveness. South Carolina Ports Police Local police and fire departments oversee the police and fire protection of private terminals. Accordingly, the ports police need port and cargo-specific information. They are among the first responders in the event of a casualty in the water adjacent to the public terminals or an emergency in public terminal areas. In the event of a fire, the police are in charge until the firefighters arrive. Nevertheless, the police have no access to real-time port or cargo information, such as the information provided by Orion. Instead, they rely on terminal tenants to supply relevant cargo information. Access to this information is not always available, and terminal personnel do not always know what is in the individual containers. Terminal personnel often require assistance to identify hazardous materials and dangerous products, and they have no in-house means of determining the appropriate first responder for a hazardous commodity fire. The police also expressed a need for easier access to the information on crews and hazardous materials for vessels berthed at a terminal. Mount Pleasant Fire Department The Mount Pleasant Fire Department is responsible for fighting fires at the Wando terminal, which is used by several container companies. The department also responds to fires on board vessels alongside the terminal. Like the police, the fire department generally has to respond to emergencies without knowing exactly what commodities are involved or what hazardous commodities are on board. The department does not have direct access to cargo information systems, such as Sea-Land's TAS or the Port Authority's Orion. Upon arriving at a vessel fire, firefighters rely entirely on a printed list of hazardous cargo and the capability of the vessel's personnel to locate those commodities. Crew lists, cargo plans, ventilation systems, and safety/fire plans also have to be provided by the vessel crew. Firefighters could obtain information from the terminal operator, but it would have to be delivered by hand. Delayed delivery of a list of hazardous cargo clearly impedes firefighting. Municipal firefighters are not necessarily familiar with all of the hazardous commodities carried in the international shipping trade, and it could take some time for them to determine an appropriate response. To compound the apparent safety risks, fire departments are not on the NWS severe weather warning call lists, and none directly receives real-time harbor information. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources does not generate real-time information related to the movement of cargo in Charleston, but its impact on the port is

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--> considerable. Its mission includes balancing the demands of trade with the maintenance of a healthy environment for other marine activities in the harbor and along the coast. The department reviews plans for the expansion of existing terminals, the location of new terminals, proposed bridges, and vessel anchorage areas. The discharge of vessel ballast water into local waters is another concern of this department that has a direct effect on vessel cargo operations. To make good decisions, the department needs real-time data on tides and currents as well as improved hydrographic data on bottom types, accurate location of the shoreline, and shallow water depths. Thus, the use of advanced information systems would enhance its decision making regarding the environmental parameters within which the port must operate. Port efficiency depends on how well trade activities can meet the challenges of environmental concerns.