GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A suspicious X-ray scan of a cargo container prompted a security lockdown at the Gulfport port early Wednesday morning.
The port of Gulfport is the third busiest on the Gulf of Mexico, handling some 200,000 cargo containers a year. Each container, inbound and out, must pass through a scanner. During one such scan Wednesday morning, a warning went off.
"We had an export container that had a positive reading, positive meaning it would require U.S. border protection checking, U.S. customs and border protection checking to see exactly what was popping up on the scan screen," said Port Executive Director Don Allee.
That triggered a series of security steps that included an immediate shutdown of the entire port facility.
"That's part of the procedure. We don't know what we're dealing with. We have a scanner, a very sensitive scanner, that says you've got a container here that needs a second look. So, rather than imagine it is a false reading, or speculate that it's not a problem, we have a procedure and that is to shutdown entry and exit to the port, to isolate the area in question, in this case a single container," said Allee.
A subsequent search of that cargo box uncovered what triggered the warning: A small container of sand.
"And as it turns out, it was a package of silica sand, which in the right mixture and compressed the proper way, can cause the scanners, which are quite sensitive, to pick 'em up. And that's exactly what happened," said the port director.
The port has always had a comprehensive security plan, but there was certainly added emphasis on that plan in the wake of 9/11.
Director Allee said in today's world, the port must maintain a high level of attention to security.
"I think we were fortunate that we had a good plan in place and the plan did what it was supposed to do," said Allee.
The security lockdown of the port lasted just 45 minutes. Director Allee said such security lockdowns at the port are rare.
The Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are the primary security providers at the port. Gulfport police were also notified when the lockdown occurred Wednesday morning.