Houston newspaper chronicles port security breaches

| Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Security has improved at the Port of Houston in the wake of a recent article in the Houston Chronicle that exposed security gaps, the paper reported.

A Chronicle reporter and photographer and a security consultant gained easy access to sensitive port areas after merely showing their driver's licenses to a security officer at the front gate. The three were never questioned as they drove past several ships and warehouses, heavy equipment and bridge supports.

After speaking with the chief of police at the port last week, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said he was confident security measures were better. The judge also said he was surprised to learn that access to the nation's second busiest port was so simple.

Eckels and the four other members of Harris County Commissioners Court appoint two of the seven-member Port Authority commission. The county also selects the commission chairman in conjunction with the city of Houston.

After getting a call last week from Texas Homeland Security chief Jay Kimbrough, who works in the Texas governor's office, Eckels assured state officials that the port was secure.

"The governor's office believes that in talking with port officials that they've been reminded of the importance of ensuring that employees follow proper procedure," said Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry.

The Chronicle team was also briefly allowed past the front gate of a nuclear power facility and also found no security personnel at the plant's back gate – which is actually closer to one of the plant's reactor containment buildings than the main entrance. There were also holes in a fence protecting a reservoir. Even after the Chronicle team roamed around the back gate area for at least 30 minutes, no security personnel surfaced.

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