Port of Long Beach, California: Security Threats


This paper identifies threats and vulnerabilities to the port of Long Beach, California. The literature review section highlights key concepts relating to the research topic and outlines what other researchers have written about the research topic. This case study was undertaken using the descriptive research design and framed within the mixed methods research model. Overall, it demonstrates that the contemporary threat to the security of the Port of Long Beach is the entry of foreign partners. Consequently, security issues at the port have assumed three characteristics: involvement of perceived international adversaries to America’s security operations, perceived threat to America’s sovereignty, and the lack of control by American authorities to inspect cargo handled by foreign partners.

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Seaports are a common and essential part of the global transport network. Arguably, such facilities underpin human prosperity, as has been demonstrated through historical records, which show that countries have traditionally relied on their ports for trade (Amirell, 2017). Based on the undisputed importance of these transport hubs in global commerce, their operations are often vulnerable to different types of threats. According to Barros (2017), the most common threats affecting port operations include terrorism, smuggling of counterfeit goods, importation of narcotics, and piracy. Although there is an attempt to standardize port operations across the world, different countries can formulate their own rules (Amirell, 2017). Consequently, each nation has its unique challenges and opportunities in the enhancement of port security. This paper discusses the threats to the Port of Long Beach, California.

The prosperity of the United States (US) as the biggest economy in the world is partly because it is a leader in global trade and commerce. About 41% of the country’s volume of international trade occurs through more than 361 seaports (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). Furthermore, the livelihood of millions of Americans depends on linked operations (Barros, 2017). Therefore, if a breach in port security happens, untold human and economic suffering could occur. The impact of such an event on America’s economy is even harder to quantify based on the strategic importance of the country’s seaports. Therefore, it is important to conduct independent security evaluations of each seaport. The Port of Long Beach is the preferred case study for this review because it is one of the busiest in America (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). Furthermore, globally, it is the 17th busiest port (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). Relative to this fact, authorities at the transportation hub clear more than six million containers annually (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). The complexity of operations at the Port of Long Beach makes it difficult to understand the nature of security threats plaguing the facility. Consequently, this study describes the major security threats at the installation.

Research Question

What are the characteristics of security threats affecting the Port of Long Beach?

Research Hypothesis

The involvement of foreign players poses the biggest threats to the security of the Port of Long Beach.

Literature Review

Port Security

Port security is a broad term that refers to different aspects of logistical operations, including defense and enforcement of international treaties (Amirell, 2017). Security operations involving seaports not only cover operations at the facility but also cargo that authorities clear. Most ports in America are in close proximity to large human populations (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). Therefore, a security hitch in one of them may cause serious harm. Based on this probable outcome, Barros (2017) says the concept of port security refers to the protection of the entire maritime security value chain. However, securing this value chain is a complex undertaking because many people are involved. Typically, they are involved in three stages of port security, which include the movement of goods from one point to another, the change of custody across multiple agencies, and the flow of information across different departments (Amirell, 2017; Barros, 2017).

Efforts by International Organizations to Improve Port Security

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has spearheaded one of the main initiatives taken to improve port security in the US and around the world. Different events have influenced the organization’s activities. For example, Cusumano and Ruzza (2018) say the September 11 attacks in the US were the most consequential events to have affected the industry. They led to the formulation of the International Ships and Port Facility Security code and the Maritime Transportation Security Act (Ruzza, 2018). The main areas of maritime security that these pieces of legislation addressed related to gaps in enforcement that terrorists could exploit. Therefore, these laws strived to limit vulnerabilities to ships and port security.

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The United Nations (UN) has also had an impact on how countries undertake their security procedures. Countries that are signatories to the treaty enforce such rules, and America is one of them. To do so, most major ports in the US use technological advancements to track and inspect goods (Amirell, 2017; Barros, 2017). They have also traditionally relied on this tool to improve security in most major seaports (Carlan, Sys, Vanelslander, & Roumboutsos, 2017).

Security Arrangements at the Port of Long Beach

Authorities at the Port of Long Beach regularly update their security procedures at the facility (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). Most security updates implemented by the agency stem from international maritime regulations (Carlan et al., 2017). These laws address threats to ships when they are at sea (Amirell, 2017; Barros, 2017). The same provisions provide different types of information relating to threat assessments, such as the current security level, appropriate security measures for ships, and laws formulated by coastal states (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). A multiagency team mainly oversees the security functions of the port (Moseley, 2019). Its recent initiatives to improve security have focused on educating workers on new kinds of threats so that they are better equipped to manage them (Moseley, 2019). Company, ship, and port security officers are the main classes of employees selected to get this type of training (Carlan et al., 2017).

Generally, American authorities rely a lot on the security measures outlined by the IMO (Moseley, 2019). Part of the security arrangements put in place at the Port of Long Beach is increased coordination of security activities by integrating the inputs of both public and private stakeholders (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). For example, unlike other port facilities in America, the Port of Long Beach seriously considers community participation as part of its security framework (Green Port, 2019). Port authorities believe community partners provide an invaluable resource for managing existing threats and preempting the occurrence of unseen ones (Green Port, 2019). Authorities also undertake periodic harbor patrols by highly trained and armed officers. These officials assume the responsibility of enforcing Long Beach Port tariffs (Green Port, 2019). Their roles provide necessary and vital links to different aspects of port operations. The Long Beach Harbor Patrol also assumes the responsibility of being the first responders to security breaches, such as terrorism, emergencies, and traffic accidents.

Broadly, it is important to point out that port security at the Port of Long Beach is a multi-agency responsibility shared among different state and federal agencies, including the “U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, state and federal Homeland Security offices, the Long Beach Police Department, and the Port’s own Harbor Patrol” (Green Port, 2019, p. 1.). This team works in synchrony to secure the facility and share intelligence that would mitigate unforeseen threats. Its activities are controlled from one central point – Long Beach’s command and control center (Green Port, 2019). The center was inaugurated in 2009 and acted as the focal point for coordinating all security functions pertaining to the multidisciplinary team (Green Port, 2019).

Overall, the US has adopted the developments made by the IMO in improving maritime security around the world, and it has played a vital role in improving security standards at its ports. Notably, authorities have prioritized security issues at the facility because of the high volumes of cargo America handles annually (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). For example, they have introduced strict regulations pertaining to containerized cargo handling (Green Port, 2019). The same efforts have been transferred to identity and credential verifications of port users because of the risk that terrorists or criminals could act as authorized personnel (Public Policy Institute of California, 2019). However, security threats keep changing, and it is important to have an updated assessment of contemporary threats.


Research Approach

According to Caffery, Martin-Khan, and Wade (2017), there are two main types of research approaches: qualitative and quantitative. Researchers who want to answer their questions using measurable metrics often use the quantitative technique, while those who undertake subjective assessments typically use the qualitative method (Caffery et al., 2017). In this study, the researcher used the mixed methods approach because the research questions contained subjective and quantifiable aspects of port security.

Research Design

According to Garner, Wagner, and Kawulich (2016), there are four main types of quantitative research designs: descriptive, correlational, quasi-experimental, and experimental. Based on the merits and demerits of these four types of designs, the researcher used the descriptive method as the main design because the study is descriptive in nature. In other words, identifying the main types of security threats at the Port of Long Beach is a descriptive process. Therefore, the data collection process was observational in nature.

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Data Collection

The data used in this study was secondary. In other words, it was comprised of information published by other researchers. The researcher selected this data collection method because of the limited time in completing the project. Furthermore, based on the confidential nature of security issues relating to port operations, it was difficult for the researcher to obtain first-hand information about the port’s operations as a student. Overall, the keywords used to get the research materials included “security,” “port,” and “Long Beach Port.” The researcher used two databases to obtain credible research materials – “Google scholar” and “Sage Journals.” Only articles, books, and journals published within the last five years were included in the study to obtain updated data.

Data Analysis

The researcher analyzed Information collected from secondary research using the thematic and coding method. This technique enabled the investigator to group the data into unique themes that represented distinct subject areas relating to port security. The researcher later coded these themes by allocating numbers to represent unique threats and traced each code to the appropriate question. Broadly, scholars such as Garner et al. (2016) have highlighted the thematic and coding method as a reliable data analysis technique.

Analysis and Findings

Three major themes emerged in the data collection process: lack of control, perception of security threats from international adversaries, and sovereignty. These three themes of assessment characterized the nature of modern security threats at the Port of Long Beach. The researcher further categorized them into unique codes, as highlighted in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Themes and Codes (Source: Developed by the Author).

Theme Code
Perceived security threats from international adversaries 1a
Sovereignty issues 1b
Lack of control 1c

The researcher used codes 1a, 1b, and 1c for review because they highlighted three parts of the research question, which were aimed at identifying the main characteristic of security threats affecting operations at the Port of Long Beach. Four credible websites, one book, and five journals were reviewed to come up with the research findings.

Most of the data obtained from these materials showed that the biggest threats affecting the Port of Long Beach stemmed from the activities of foreign companies operating at the port. Notably, the operations of Chinese firms, which have short-term leases to clear cargo, posed the biggest threats. For example, one Chinese company – COSCO, which has a five-year lease to manage its cargo, was the biggest threat to the port’s operations (Moseley, 2019). This is because the American government does not have absolute control over the company’s operations. Furthermore, the firm’s main shareholder is the Chinese government, and it is not open to scrutiny. Since the Chinese government is arguably an adversary to American economic interests, it is possible for criminals to exploit its port operations and import contraband goods, guns, and such-like materials without being subjected to comprehensive scrutiny by the American government. In fact, the American Congress is debating this issue amid fears that foreign partners could jeopardize security arrangements put in place by the government at the Port of Long Beach (Moseley, 2019; Modesti, 2017).

Conclusion and Recommendations


This research study highlighted the strengths and weaknesses associated with operations at the Port of Long Beach, California. Besides these areas of analysis, the researcher outlined possible threats that could compromise the port’s security. Although authorities need to be commended for improving security standards, the involvement of foreign partners in the port’s operations is a threat to their long-term viability. This threat outlines three key characteristics of the main issues affecting Long Beach’s port: perceived security threats from international adversaries, perceived threats to America’s sovereignty, and the lack of control by American authorities to inspect cargo handled by foreign partners.


Future researchers should explore the role of foreign partners in managing port operations and the extent that their involvement in security operations could infringe on a country’s sovereignty. This recommendation stems from the failure of past researchers to update their security procedures based on the evolving nature of existing threats. Furthermore, previous studies have mostly centered on technological advances that influence security operations at such facilities without a keen focus on this issue. Therefore, reexamining the criteria for the inclusion of foreign partners in port operations would provide a comprehensive outlook of contemporary security threats.

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Amirell, S. E. (2017). Pirates and pearls: Jikiri and the challenge to maritime security and American sovereignty in the Sulu Archipelago, 1907–1909. International Journal of Maritime History, 29(1), 44-67.

Barros, A. J. M. (2017). The Manila Galleon, Macao and international maritime and commercial relations, 1500-1700. International Journal of Maritime History, 29(1), 123-137.

Caffery, L. J., Martin-Khan, M., & Wade, V. (2017). Mixed methods for telehealth research. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 23(9), 764-769.

Carlan, V., Sys, C., Vanelslander, T., & Roumboutsos, A. (2017). Digital innovation in the port sector: Barriers and facilitators. Competition and Regulation in Network Industries, 18(2), 71-93.

Cusumano, E., & Ruzza, S. (2018). Security privatization at sea: Piracy and the commercialization of vessel protection. International Relations, 32(1), 80-103.

Garner, M., Wagner, C., & Kawulich, B. (2016).Teaching research methods in the social sciences. New York, NY: Routledge.

Green Port. (2019). Port security. Web.

Modesti, K. (2017). LA long beach port security concerns prompt congressional hearing. Web.

Moseley, J. (2019). American port security. Web.

Public Policy Institute of California. (2019). Protecting the ports: Are US security measures missing the boat? Web.

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