TAMPA - The Port of Tampa has become a different place in the last 10 years. Before 9/11, many say you would be able to just walk down to the port, go down to the docks, and drop a fishing pole in the water.
Today, you wouldn't be able to set foot on the port without an ID badge (earned after a background check and application process) and passing a security checkpoint.
I-Team investigator Michael George was given a tour of the Port of Tampa to see how the port is prepared to deal with terrorist threats.
"I think we've made phenomenal progess since 9/11," said Tampa Port Authority Director of Security Mark Dubina.
We asked Dubina why terrorists haven't attacked ports since September 11.
"Well, what I'd like to think is that we've done a very good job of making our targets harder to approach, harder to interact with, and harder to impact," Dubina said.
Protecting the port is a huge task involving local and federal agencies. The Tampa Port Authority works with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Tampa Police Department to secure critical areas, including entryways to the port. Private companies maintain their own security for their operations, under the approval of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard inspects ships and cargo as they make their way into the port. Customs and Border Protection inspects containers. The Transportation Security Agency is involved in the screening of workers.
All of these agencies have to communicate together to protect the port's 5,000 acres and the 42 mile stretch of water that provides entry.
Security expert Craig Gundry of Critical Intervention Services agrees that progress has been made at the Port of Tampa. He also says Tampa's port has been ahead of many others on security issues. However, he adds that there are always vulnerabilities.
"We know that a number of terrorist groups have surveyed ports in the past as potential targets. We know that the consequences of an attack, depending on the type of scenario, could be quite severe," Gundry said.
Container inspections, which fall under the jurisdiction of Customs, are still not happening as frequently as many security experts suggested after 9/11. All containers are now put through a scanner to check for radioactive material. However, many security experts believe other types of devices and weapons could still be smuggled in.
"Only a fraction of the containers entering U.S. ports are in fact, screened in an effective manner," Gundry said.
Many government reports obtained by the I-Team point out the concerns over 100% container inspections, but also state that the cost and potential impact on business would be significant.
Tampa's port provides much of the nation's fuel and fertilizer. That means the port houses enormous tanks and pipelines carrying hazardous chemicals. A terrorist attack at the port wouldn't just cost lives, it could potentially cause billions of dollars worth of damage to the economy.
Gundry believes terrorists could attempt a direct attack on the port.
"If there was to be an armed assault, for example, on an entry control point into most ports, in most cases, the bad guys would succeed at getting in," Gundry said.
We asked Dubina if there are still vulnerabilities at the port.
"I don't think anything's perfect. We're always looking to improve our procedures and protocols," Dubina said.
Dubina says the port has prepared for the possibility of an attack, and private companies have their own security in place as well. He believes Tampa's port is one of the best prepared in the nation.
"I think the public in general should be alert to things around them, understanding that this country is always at threat to attack. But I don't think people should worry so much about port security. Port security is very robust," Dubina said.
Port officials say they are on heightened security for the anniversary of 9/11. They are also starting to prepare additional security for next year's Republican National Convention.