Focus on Manatee: Port Manatee enhances security while facilitating record commerce

Port Manatee security officers Brandy Lewis (in vehicle) and Jack Tunney enforce access control for vessel operations.
Port Manatee security officers Brandy Lewis (in vehicle) and Jack Tunney enforce access control for vessel operations. Port Manatee

While Port Manatee’s record-setting cargo volumes have been stealing the headlines, Manatee County’s seaport has quietly been enhancing its around-the-clock security to facilitate the swift, efficient flow of increasing genuine commerce and avert movement of unauthorized people and goods.

During the past year, Port Manatee’s highly trained security staff has bolstered its role, assuming functions that previously had been the responsibility of terminal operators. By doing so, redundancies have been eliminated, allowing the highest levels of security to be provided at the lowest cost as growing amounts of diverse cargos cross port docks.

To ensure safety and protection at all times, nearly three-dozen security officers – representing the seaport’s largest department – work in collaboration with a full spectrum of local, state and federal enforcement agencies, from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to U.S. Customs & Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Manatee County residents should rest easy knowing that port security is on duty 24/7 every day of the year, including holidays and when natural disasters strike. For example, when Hurricane Irma struck in September, port security remained in place, ensuring that critical landside operations – such as the movement of fuel-carrying trucks – could proceed even as waterside activity was under federal suspension.

September also brought news that Port Manatee had been awarded a $946,950 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant that will allow a doubling from two to four outbound lanes at the main gate, greatly expanding capabilities for meeting federal screening requirements for rapidly rising numbers of fuel trucks and other commercial vehicles leaving port property.

The grant also will help the port enhance its contingent of screening equipment, upgrade its main gate intercom system and update credential readers.

Credentialing remains a critical component of securing Port Manatee’s 1,100-plus-acre property, as the port continues to meet post-9/11 mandates for Transportation Worker Identification Credentials, or TWICs. Indeed, Port Manatee was one of the first U.S. ports to fully implement electronic verification requirements of the TWIC program, including biometric reading.

Carlos Buqueras
Carlos Buqueras is the executive director at Port Manatee.

With the assistance of multiple DHS grants, Port Manatee has advanced more than $10 million in security-related projects during the past decade, with other endeavors including the purchase of portable generator units and their integration into critical buildings at the port, thus fortifying recovery and resiliency capabilities in the event of an emergency that cuts off the port’s normal power supply.

In addition, Port Manatee this year has achieved certification as a member of the federal Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism homeland security program, facilitating expedited clearance of import shipments. Participation in the voluntary C-TPAT supply chain initiative allows members with documented risk alleviation procedures to be subject to fewer Customs examinations and thereby benefit from accelerated processing of cargo.

Port Manatee last year opened its new multiagency Emergency Operations Center in the Port Manatee Intermodal Building and also completed its expanded south security gate complex.

A portwide video surveillance system features more than 120 cameras, while a fleet of vehicles and port watercraft respectively patrol Port Manatee land and offshore zones, supported by a ZoneWatch program that enlists vetted and approved private boaters in being additional eyes and ears in areas such as around the Manbirtee Key bird sanctuary.

It is little wonder that Port Manatee has gained widespread renown for its leading-edge security, being the only Florida seaport certified to conduct facility security officer training and, most recently, an FSO refresher course, with more than 1,000 students from throughout the nation having earned certifications through training provided at Port Manatee.

And, while Port Manatee unwaveringly serves our region by supporting more than 24,000 jobs and generating $2.3 billion in annual impacts, the security department offers a further public benefit with its approved application center for the TSA PreCheck program, which delivers low-risk travelers expedited screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints.

Carlos Buqueras is the executive director at Port Manatee and can be reached at