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July 11, 2006, Business Section

Special to The Times

Considering the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, former Mercer County Sheriff Samuel Plumeri Jr. said it should come as no surprise that the United States is still a target for terrorists.

“One lesson has been painstakingly learned – maintaining secure facilities must always be our primary objective,” said Plumeri, who is now the director of Public Safety and superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department.

Plumeri was the keynote speaker during a recent luncheon at Mercer Oaks hosted by the 200 Club of Mercer County, which offers financial support to families of rescue personnel killed in the line of duty.

Plumeri stressed the need to increase security at the nation’s ports.

“If we are to manage risks posed by the constant threat of terrorism, we need to pay far more attention to the issue of seaport security and we need to do so now.

“Ninety-five percent of the international goods that come into the United States enter through our nation’s 361 ports. Twelve percent of that volume is handled in the Port of New York and New Jersey, the largest port on the East Coast of the United States.”

The Port Authority has spent about $3 billion over the past decade to improve security by adding security personnel, improving surveillance, and increasing restrictions on access, Plumeri said, adding that officers are also trained for rescue efforts.

“Congress has only appropriated a total of $707 million for port security since 2002, far short of the need identified by the U.S. Coast Guard and just a fraction of the nearly $5 billion budget for airports and aviation appropriated for the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) in 2006 alone.”

He said about $5.4 billion is needed over the next 10 years to update more than 3,000 ports in the United States so they meet security standards.

“Some capital investments and operational improvements have been made by the public and private sectors. As a result, the maritime transportation system is more secure today than ever before, but we still have a long way to go.”

While the Port Authority has spent $77 million on seaport security over the last four years, Plumeri said, “In the next two years, we plan on investing an additional $9 million on capital security projects.”

A new program requiring seaport transportation workers to carry identification credentials was also recently mandated by Congress, which Plumeri hopes the Department of Homeland Security will quickly implement.

Plumeri admits the past four years with the authority have been challenging, but he’s hopeful the public and private sectors will continue to support security efforts. “This effort cannot be successful unless everyone works together.”