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Pandemic hit Port of LA with huge ebbs and flows

Executive Director Gene Seroka looks back on ‘unprecedented’ year in live Q&A during FreightWaves’ North American Supply Chain Summit

Dooner chats with Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka, right, during the FreightWaves North American Supply Chain Summit on Tuesday.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka looked back on “a year of big swings” during a live interview with FreightWaves’ Dooner and Michael Vincent on Tuesday.

Those swings have taken the port from a springtime trough of a 19% year-over-year volume drop to today, when the amount of imports “is just unprecedented,” Seroka said during the Q&A conducted during FreightWaves’ North American Supply Chain Summit.

Seroka has long been an advocate for information sharing among stakeholders. The effort began in earnest more than five and a half years ago with the launch of the Port Optimizer.  

“That gave us a line of sight for two weeks before a ship got into LA — better than the two days most were seeing at that time,” he said.

In early September, Seroka unveiled The Signal. Powered by the Port Optimizer, the dashboard 

shows how many shipments will be arriving at the Port of LA over the next three weeks. The data is broken down by container type and includes details on the mode of transportation, whether rail or truck, that will be used once the cargo arrives in LA. 

And then in November, just after the Port of LA moved a record-setting 980,729 twenty-foot equivalent units in October, Seroka introduced the Return Signal platform, which he said at the time was “designed to help our trucking community know where and when it can return empty containers throughout the San Pedro Bay complex, thus enhancing the probability of dual transactions.” 

The container windfall that has come as the U.S. tries to recover economically from COVID-19 also has brought an increase in the number of attempted cyberattacks. 

“Cyber intrusion attempts have doubled since the beginning of COVID-19,” Seroka told Dooner on Tuesday, sharing that the port is now recording as many as 44 million intrusion attempts each month. “Not one has gotten through.

“So that led us to the next step. We started the cybersecurity operations center here at the Port of Los Angeles, the first in the nation, back in September of 2014, and as we watched the threats change over time, we introduced, again, the nation’s first ever Cyber Resilience Center, which is an effort to bring port cybersecurity operations into play with the private sector’s supply chain partners,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners approved an agreement with IBM to design and operate the Port Cyber Resilience Center. “Focused on detecting and protecting against malicious cyber incidents potentially impacting cargo flow, this first-of-its-kind system is also expected to greatly improve the quality, quantity and speed of cyber information sharing within the port community,” the announcement said.

Seroka provided visibility to the number of container ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay waiting to berth at the ports of LA and Long Beach. He said 23 vessels were at anchor early Tuesday morning, with 14 destined for the Port of LA.

“On average, 85% of the ships that are coming to our port are sitting at anchor for two and a half days,” he said, noting this fall has seen “just a deluge of import freight.”

Seroka said he read just over a week ago about toy importers’ concerns that products were stuck at the Port of LA. 

“With the use of our Port Optimizer, we were able to pinpoint exactly where those containers were. As of [Monday] night, 40 of the 43 are out the gate and on their way to customers. Two are still on ships waiting to berth, and one is on a marine terminal that should move out momentarily,” he said.

While Dooner may have a Santa-size beard, Seroka helped fill the sleigh.

Port of LA launches Return Signal for trucking to address congestion

Port of LA files best September despite lagging exports

Port of LA’s Seroka calls for US focus on exports

Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.