Dimitris Nikoleris, Business Development Manager from global integrated surveillance solutions specialist Synectics, explains how evolving surveillance technology can help South East Asian ports do more than keep goods secure.

With an annual economic growth rate of 5%, the SE Asian market is currently undergoing huge expansion. As the GDP of the 11 countries that make up the region approaches $2 trillion and the personal income of the 600 million people living there comes into line with that of China, the rapidly growing middle class is demanding more consumer products. This is fuelling a boom in trade.

Even with the current slump in dry bulk shipping, public and private investment in SE Asian ports and the supporting infrastructure is estimated to reach around $8 trillion* in the next ten years.

Where a sector is so critical to both economic
and human life, there are of course always threats. Keeping port assets, the goods they hold, the ships using them and the staff working there safe, is a challenge. But it is a challenge that an intelligently integrated surveillance solution is well equipped to tackle, particularly in terms of dry cargo storage and logistics.


Historically the ports sector has looked to individual, separately implemented and monitored systems to protect its assets. Perimeter security, intruder detection systems, access control, emergency incident alarms, cameras and general site surveillance will be present on most port estates — but they are traditionally considered, and therefore treated, as siloed elements.

The net result of this has been inefficiency; with increased time, manpower and monetary costs incurred to manage the individual systems. This approach also has limited potential in terms of maximizing the information and data available - with disparate solutions there will only ever be a disjointed view of operations.

Achieving full-site situational awareness is currently an almost impossible task because ‘isolated’ incidents can never be presented and understood in the broader context of other events. When you consider how many carriers, logistics operators and businesses operate in and around a port, the potential negative impact of a fragmented operational view is quite significant.

But this does not have to be the case. To see why, let’s firstly look at the essentials of port surveillance. There are three main elements to consider with any surveillance system handling dry cargo.

1. Safety — the proactive monitoring and enhanced activation of health and safety is paramount in any port setting. This can include monitoring storage conditions, cargo movements, staff interaction with cargo etc.

2. Security — ports are large targets; in this age of advanced security threats, the security of a site requires careful 

consideration. It is not only the security of the cargo that needs monitoring, but that of the site and people too.

3 Operations — a port needs to be efficient to be profitable. With multiple companies, cargo and machinery using the same space, stringent operating procedures and processes need to be in place.

Open protocol surveillance command and control platforms enable video (analogue, digital and thermal cameras), intruder alarms, fire and gas detection, access control, critical asset tracking and site management systems to be integrated, monitored and managed within a single, unified environment.

This allows operators located in a central security centre to achieve a 360° view of data and events. For example, an integrated solution of this nature can not only detect ‘obvious’ isolated incidents, such as a forced perimeter fence breach, but can also be programmed to ‘look for’ specific events which individually may not mean anything, but when analysed together can signal potential threats.


Monitoring health and safety is a paramount concern on any port estate — to protect assets/people and also ensure protection against compliance and negligence claims. But it is not just the safety of people and cargo on the port estate that needs monitoring; the infrastructure and surrounding areas are an integral part of the safety concern. Here are some examples.

An alarm sounds as the unloading of a consignment of sulphur commences, signalling no water can be sprayed onto the cargo as it is unloaded. In isolation, this is not necessarily a worry. But what if a man-down alert is also received by the surveillance team, while in another area of the site air quality readings start to fluctuate? Together these individual events indicate an issue. However, without being able to view and understand them in the context of each other, a potentially significant threat to safety could be missed.

Integrating these different systems into one command and control platform, together with unified communications, the 

control room team can rapidly investigate this scenario, alert local authorities to evacuate residents in range or in the path of projected pollution, while simultaneously sending emergency service personnel to attend to the staff member already overcome by the fumes. All these activities and subsequent actions can then be logged against the incident for evidence review or training purposes.

In addition, operating an integrated system has the added benefit of proving compliance to ISO 28000:2007, the specification for security management systems for the supply chain, as well as ISO 20858:2007 for maritime port facility security assessments and security plan development.


Imagine another scenario. Thermal imaging cameras begin to show heat in one of the coal storage sheds, which is a restricted area. This triggers a safety alert advising control centre personnel to check temperature readings and initiate a cooling/fire-prevention workflow process.

But imagine the same scenario occurs in conjunction with an access card alert from a member of staff who is not due on shift for another three hours. Using the system’s in-built analytics with live-streamed video, the control centre team can track and quickly locate and identify the person using the access card, while deploying and guiding a security team to intercept them.

Furthermore, this system enables control staff to collaborate and monitor the situation, while being automatically guided through appropriate incident scenarios and workflows. An integrated system offers complete situational awareness and a quick resolution to a threat before it can escalate further; delivering a level of consistency vital to overall port security.


Although threat of theft or attack is a key factor affecting surveillance trends in the global shipping and marine market, the other important consideration is the economy. Budgets are tight, cargoes are precious and resources are limited. What is becoming a standard practice, therefore, is the use of surveillance as a way to improve operational efficiencies.

With the integration capabilities of modern surveillance systems, port management companies can, for example, reduce staff numbers needed for high-risk activities. As well as reducing the risk to staff, this can be a beneficial scenario for operations in areas such as complex machinery zones or storage areas for potentially flammable or self-igniting goods such as oil seed or coal.

The other major trend, in terms of operational efficiencies, is for surveillance monitoring and control technology to integrate with systems critical to goods maintenance.

Temperature fluctuations, excessive humidity and light levels can all have a detrimental effect on goods. Linking sensory data programmed to detect such changes with real-time video footage, personnel can immediately see any factors that may need addressing. These could include temperature increases, fire, water ingress, too many personnel in one area, or doorways/hatches that may be open when they should be closed.

In this way, intelligently integrated surveillance monitoring and control systems deliver valuable insight and can become integral to an overall assessment system.

Data gathered from surveillance sub-systems, via an open architecture integrated surveillance solution, can provide complete situational awareness for all aspects of port operation.

In-built analytics enable detailed insight into procedures and practices, as well as programmed to ‘look for’ patterns of inefficiencies. Data collection and in-system analysis enables management teams to work towards improvement, efficiency and best practice.

This has a knock-on benefit for port management companies; as well as helping to keep goods in optimal condition, it also provides the audit trail to provide confirming evidence. As part of their ‘trade journey’, goods may be stored or transported by various different methods and therefore, could be damaged at multiple stages. Being able to demonstrate that items were received, maintained and delivered in optimal condition by providing the data captured is a valuable resource. This can mitigate against questions or allegations about goods maintenance for example as part of an insurance investigation.

With dry bulk shipping costs escalating and daily fees dropping, the shipping and marine sector needs to improve the processes for transporting, unloading and storage to ensure maximum product quality is retained. The additional return on investment offered by integrated security systems are two-fold, providing the means to develop a highly dynamic process, coupled with data analysis that has multiple applications — ensuring costs are kept to the minimum for the maximum return.


As the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) nears resolution and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) already in place, multinationals are ready and waiting to seize the opportunity to transport large amounts of cargo from East to West and vice versa.

To enable the safe transport of ever increasing amounts of trade, integrated surveillance and smart technology is fast- becoming the go-to solution to ensure the safe, efficient transfer of goods and materials.

For example, as ships become more connected to the mainland, data coming in from sea can be used to plan the most efficient unloading and transport of dry cargo from sea to end delivery point. This can include ensuring storage bays are empty to receive goods, transportation is scheduled and routes are clear, and GPS data can be captured throughout the land based journey to provide real-time delivery timeframes.

As global satellite communications become more advanced, the link between ships and shore will also become increasingly blurred, as data will be able to pass more freely from one to the other. In addition to transport planning, this can be used to monitor the state, and even value, of the cargo on board – meaning a decision about storage or transportation can be taken before the vessel has even entered the port. Real-time cargo tracking of this nature does currently exist but it is in its infancy.

In addition, in order to deliver the UN’s ‘Safer Cities’ objectives, ports must interface with local municipal and emergency services and be included in any critical infrastructure protection. Here too we will certainly see information integration — made possible through surveillance command and control — increasingly move into the spotlight.

What is very clear, whether looking at the here and now or to the future, is that surveillance is quickly moving beyond being an isolated component of port security. Data unification is absolutely critical for protecting assets that are so important to the global economy — it’s an ambition that has to become a reality for the port operators. Intelligently integrated surveillance can make that happen.