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This past holiday season, many consumers were met with frustrations as products on shelves dwindled and manufacturers were left scratching their heads trying to solve what seemed a never-ending problem for 2021—supply chain disruptions. Throughout the year, nowhere may the impact of these delays be felt more intensely than on the very ports designed to manage the flow.
On the U.S. West Coast, for example, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles handle almost half—about 40% of all sea freight—coming into the country. While teams have been making headway into resolving shipping container congestion, carriers using these ports may face significant fines if not resolved, as much as $100 per container per day left dockside. Although there were some delays on fine imposition since first announced in October 2021, there was some container movement through end of year. Yet at the time of this blog writing, there were still a number of containers remaining that need to get out to consumers across the nation.
These delays and backlogs are among some of the many challenges those managing the ports—and ultimately directly impacting the supply chain here and abroad—have faced since the coronavirus outbreak began in 2020.
In a recent episode of Castellan’s podcast, “Business, Interrupted,” host Cheyene Marling talked about these challenges and other supply chain issues with Eddie Galang, Chief Information Security Officer at the Port of Long Beach. At the time of the recording, hundreds of ships were off-shore, adding to the pressure for Galang and his colleagues to maintain business continuity all while grappling with the knowledge that failing to do so has global consequences.
But the challenges aren’t just materials and logistics. There are added responsibilities of keeping workers safe and ensuring the ports are protected from threats, even when operations are managed remotely.
While the task may feel daunting, Galang stepped up to the challenge, helping the port set record highs in volume during the last year.
Not unlike many global organizations, when faced with pandemic restrictions, the port made a transition from managing operations primarily on-site to some remote operations management. The first question was, how does the port connect to continue business remotely? But that quickly evolved into full-scale risk analysis about how the port can operate in this new environment and do so securely.
It was a feat the team was able to not just manage, but excel at.
The ports of Long Beach and LA essentially serve as a gateway to other places and ports where goods and services have to go through, for example, to Asia.
“The port’s been in business since 1911,” Galang said. “We’ve had record numbers since the pandemic.”
When volume picked up, some wondered if it was an anomaly caused by the pandemic or other factors, but it’s a trend that continued to increase, and continues to increase, even today.
“And quite honestly, if we stop, I don’t want to say life stops, but a lot of things do have an impact and a domino effect,” Galang explained.
To work through the backlog of ships, the ports are essentially running around-the-clock. From a CSO perspective, Galang said he has to look at the current environment as one that’s ripe for threat actors to try to exploit.
“And we are in a constant guard,” Galang said.
That means a lot of technology and security to keep everything safe and operational. From a cyber perspective, that includes continuous visibility into what’s happening across the enterprise; constantly looking for any potential threats, both external and internal; and relying on threat intelligence to stay one step ahead of attackers.
The goal is to be proactive, not reactive.
“We have measures there that essentially take a defensive posture and make it offensive,” Galang said. “My goal is always to make the port disappear from the threat actor, not in a literal sense, but really just making sure that we have enough time to be able to address any issues.”
And while teams are honing their skills in their remote environment, that too is evolving. As more employees are vaccinated and the nature of the pandemic changes, the ports could do as other organizations have in recent months and move back to more on-premises working. While that will again bring new challenges to the table, Galang thinks there are plenty of opportunities to take what they’ve learned from the remote environment and apply it back to the new normal, whether that be primarily on site or a hybrid environment.
While there is some good momentum in alleviating the backlog at the ports, the reality is the supply chain disruptions we face today aren’t likely to be fully resolved anytime in the near future. As Galang points out, even if the ports work through the backlog, other supply chain issues still remain, for example with containers, trucks to move the products, railroad issues, warehousing problems, and more, much of which can be linked to a workforce shortage.
“It’s not a single point of failure,” he points out, which is likely to continue to create bottlenecks in the supply chain as we move forward.
And while technologies and systems play a huge role in that, Galang reminds others that you can’t find success without surrounding yourself with good people.
“You cannot do this on your own,” he said.
Would you like to hear more of our conversation with Eddie Galang and learn more about how the pandemic has directly affected U.S. ports and the supply chain? Check out the full podcast episode, “Shipping, Security, and Supply Chain Continuity with Eddie Galang,” from Castellan or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
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