The Block Island Times

Port security camera proposed

By Stephanie Turaj | Jun 02, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis Old Harbor.

A proposal to add on to a network of about 13 existing video cameras across the state of Rhode Island includes one that would monitor port security near Block Island’s Old Harbor.

This camera would be used by state and local security officials, according to John Riendeau, Director of Business Development at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which has a grant to install the camera.

According to its website, the EDC is “a quasi-public organization funded primarily through an appropriation from the Rhode Island General Assembly. The Corporation serves as a government and community resource to help streamline the business expansion in, and relocation to, Rhode Island.”

The camera feed would be accessible to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the R.I. Emergency Management Agency (EMA). Town law enforcement officials, such as the local police and fire chiefs, may also request access from the EMA.

“Our goal is to look at the ocean environment and monitor the traffic that’s coming out of the harbor,” said Riendeau. “Block Island residents use Old Harbor as access to Galilee. Block Island is a critical part of the Rhode Island port system.”

The EDC is currently looking for the proper site for the Block Island camera, and has several options: a Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) telephone pole, the town sewer plant or on a pole in Old Harbor. If installed on the BIPCo pole, the camera would not need town permission, only BIPCo permission.

“The problem is height,” said Riendeau, who explained the camera needs to be high enough above sea level to monitor the ocean.

Town Councilors weighed in on the proposal.

Neither First Warden Kim Gaffett nor Second Warden Ken Lacoste seemed concerned about the issue of privacy.

“I’m not overly concerned with ‘big brother,’ because of the nature of the camera and it looking at the ocean,” said Lacoste. “I don’t have any reservations about the information I was presented.”

Town Councilor Norris Pike disagreed, “It’s just one more big brother thing, but I suppose it could be useful.’”

“I would want to know who would have access,” said Town Councilor Chris Warfel said at a May 15 council meeting. “I do worry about ‘big brother’ and how it could be used.”

As to the issue of privacy, Riendeau suggested that the safety benefits outweigh any negative impact wrought by invasion of privacy.

“We all like to maintain privacy,” said Riendeau, but he said that these cameras have helped, “time and time again in saving lives and coordinating a response to situations... these cameras are proven to be an effective tool.”

The camera would be used for emergency situations, such as an overturned boat or a fire. Riendeau said these cameras currently installed have been able to assist in many situations.

“Last week, a sailboat turned over,” said Riendeau. “One of the cameras was looking at that general area.”

Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of The Privacy Journal, a monthly newsletter about individual privacy, said that there are other ways these funds could have better spent.

“We need human beings from the Coast Guard,” he said. “People seem to think that cameras can help prevent crime, but often they just might help solve crime after the fact.”

He added that ocean water often makes cameras rust, and wind can push them out of position.

The 13 security cameras are installed in various points around the state such as the Pell Bridge overlooking the Narragansett Bay, in Wickford, and on Prudence Island. The EDC has plans to install more cameras in Newport and in Galilee.

Riendeau is not certain when the camera will be installed, but he said “the sooner, the better... I’d love to have it up for the busy summer season.”

According to a letter from the EDC, it is requesting the town “to participate by allowing the Team to install one (1) camera and antenna (radio) to transmit that feed to the Port of Galilee, where it will be integrated into the system used by the R.I. law Enforcement Community.”

Riendeau said that the camera feed would not be accessed by the public. “It gives law enforcement a private network.”

The Rhode Island Port Security Communications Network (PSCN-1) was established in 2005 as a demonstration project funded by an $856,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Riendieau said this project was a demonstration for many similar projects elsewhere.

“There were national accolades for doing this,” said Riendeau. “A lot of other states called us to see how we did it... We were blazing a new trail.”

The PSCN-1 was a collaborative project of the Rhode Island EMA, the Rhode Island EDC, the Rhode Island DEM and the Rhode Island Department of Administration.

“Feeds from these PSCN sites are currently networked back via wireless and landline to a Data Center maintained by DEM in Providence where they are integrated into a Video Management System (VMS) called ‘First View.’ These feeds are further integrated into a system called Athena which is used as a state wide system by multiple agencies,” said the letter by the EDC.

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