Massive explosions killed at least 114 people and injured over 700 in early August at the Port of Tianjin in China. Tianjin is located close to Beijing and is one of China’s most important oil and gas terminals. It also serves as a key entry point for iron ore, vital to the enormous steel making industry in China. While the cause of the explosions are not yet clear, it is interesting to question whether this accident could have been prevented through the use of smart technologies. Technologies such as petrochemical air pollution sensors and wireless mesh networks could have potentially been helpful in detecting potential hazards such as early fires (which may have led to the explosions) or a gas leak.
Smart Technology Port Applications
Ports in China would be far from the first to adopt smart technologies for safety purposes. Wireless mesh networks are currently being used in marine and safety applications in North America at the NY Waterway. This network provides a security solution with a coverage area spanning nearly all the waterways that surround Manhattan. The NY Waterway uses the high-speed wireless network to improve communications, emergency response, and preparedness throughout all ports and ferries in the organization’s fleet. Hundreds of Interlogix IP and analog cameras are being used and are connected through Fluidmesh’s Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based wireless mesh network.
Increased Safety through Energy Efficiency
Smart technologies can also make port operations safer by making them more energy efficient. The Port of Hamburg, which takes in roughly 10,000 ships per year, recently computerized its loading systems to synchronize offloading and reduce traffic jams that were causing very high concentrations of diesel emissions. Integrated Truck Guidance systems from companies such as Siemens can track and guide trucks that are close to the port (within 10-15 miles) to assigned spaces or allocate each truck to alternative spaces if the originally assigned space is not open. This system can reduce traffic congestion and unnecessary idling at ports by making parking and cargo pickup routes more efficient—thus reducing harmful air pollution.
While it’s impossible to know for sure whether a connected sensor network could have prevented the explosions at the Tianjin port, perhaps operators could have taken some preventative action if they were given a chance to respond to the events before it became an uncontrollable situation. The inherent security and operational issues regarding ports and ships make this industry a prime candidate for smart technologies.
For more information on the use of smart technologies in port operations, see Navigant Research’s report Energy-Efficient Port Operations, which analyzes the market for shore power technology and natural gas drayage trucks.