Homeland security - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Posted by: George Metaxas, 11/08/04, 6:32 p.m.

Homeland security

The Mid-South is one of the country's busiest distribution centers. The Port of Memphis alone handles more than 16 million tons of cargo a year. And that could make the Mid-South attractive to more than industry. Target 5 put our waterway security to the test. Since September 11th, federal, state and local agencies have spent millions of dollars to step up routine patrols of Mid-South waterways and beef up security. But we were able to slip through cracks in the security system.

Keeping the Mid-South's waterways secure is a high stakes game of cat and mouse. Cmdr. David Stalfort, U.S. Coast Guard said, "Terrorists have to be right once, we have to be right 100-percent of the time." With the deck already stacked against them, every day the U-S Coast Guard works with the Memphis Police Department to patrol 300 miles of waterways, the vessels that use them, the facilities alongside them, and the bridges over them. Stalfort said, "We're employing as many resources as we can both within the Coast Guard and the maritime community to start having more people be aware of what's out there increase the eyes and ears." But is it enough? We decided to have a look for ourselves, to test security measures on the Mississippi River and at riverfront facilities that either manufacture, store, or transport hazardous chemicals, big facilities like the Mapco Refinery, the T-V-A plant, and the Port of Memphis. In many cases we found easy access.

Our first stop, McKellar Lake, an offshoot of the Mississippi that runs along the south side of Presidents Island. The lake is lined with more than a dozen refineries, chemical plants, power plants and other facilities. The federal government requires all of them to have security plans to keep people out. On the landside, access to these facilities is limited with gates, guard towers and warning signs. But we found a different story. Time after time we were able to pull right up to the facilities' river operations without anyone stopping us. Then, we beached our boat, trekked up the hill, and into a facility where we found a wide-open unguarded back gate. For security reasons we won't tell you which one. And no one seemed to notice when we found potential security breaches at plants that did have secure fencing all the way around and signs warning of hazardous material. But while the chemicals inside the plant may be secure, from the river you have access to the pipelines that lead straight back the plant. And we seemingly had unrestricted access to the dozens of barges and tug boats anchored in McKellar Lake.

n the Mississippi itself, we spent hours casing what some officials call the Mid-South's most strategic terror targets. From the river, you basically get complete access to the bridges, the supports and the thousands of trucks, cars, even trains that travel over them every day. The only hint of security we saw the entire day was after we returned to the dock. Two railroad policemen showed up wanting to know who we were and why we were taking pictures of their bridge. At no point did we see anyone with the companies, the Coast Guard or the Memphis Police Department's Harbor Patrol. Capt. Troy Daniel, MPD Harbor Patrol said, "I was surprised when you said that you had access to them without someone mentioning something to you or us not getting a call." When we showed our tapes to the people in charge of your security, we got a very mixed and surprising response. Be sure to tune in tonight at ten to hear their answers and find out what's being done to make sure local private companies are securing your safety.

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