Inside the Georgia Ports: How they do it?

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The constant beeping of cranes is the song of the Georgia Ports Authority, a high-pitched theme of commerce.

But at Garden City Terminal, the symphony is in the movement, in thousands of workers transferring millions of pounds of goods every day.

"It's a very active ballet,'' says Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz, "that's orchestrated here by a lot of smart people.''

And it's one that takes steel containers out of the water and into the air, at an average of 40 miles an hour, sending what's inside them onto store shelves throughout the southeast.

"You wonder sometimes what's in some of the containers, all the containers that come through here,'' said GPA Crane Operator Paul Wood. "You wonder where's all that stuff going?''

It's a mystery that unfolds from ship to crane to the dock.

"(The dock) is the Mecca of the whole operation here,'' says Willie Seymore, president of the International Longshoreman Association's local 1414 union. "We've got the longshoremen unloading the ships, taking them to the stacks so they can get out to the different warehouses.''

But that doesn't just happen with heavy lifting.

The same way the contents of every container that comes into the port has a predetermined destination outside the gate, every one of those boxes has a specific place it will go and wait on the yard, sort of assigned parking on a giant chess board of a lot.

"We plan everything out that we can possibly think of, all the scenarios,'' says Cheri Colson, a container operations administrator planner supervisor. "We say okay there's 1,500 containers coming off, X number are empties, X number are loads and this is where we're going to place them out on the yard.''

And beyond the beeping of cranes and humming of trucks at the port, the most important tools for roughly 400 employees in container operations are computer keyboards, digital grids, even satellites.

"We lay them out based on port of discharge, size, type, weight class,'' says Colson. "We have that set up so when a ship goes to work, they have higher vessel production.''

"It gets hectic at times,'' added checker-foreman James Briscoe. "It's like a puzzle, a broken puzzle, but once we formulate it and put it together, everybody sees the picture.''

Stephen Crawford says the use of technology allows the container operations staff to know the location of every container on the yard at all times.

"It's organized,'' he said. "When you come out here and look at all the road traffic and the ILA traffic on the terminal, you might not think it is, but it is very organized.''

The entire operation at the second largest port on the East Coast is also very synchronized, and had to be to move 8.3 percent of the United States' containerized cargo last year.

"Fom the office all the way out into the field, even down to the drivers, the ILA workers, everybody must come together as one piece,'' said Briscoe. "One piece blows the same sound and it's just one sound all together.''

And that constant beeping of cranes creates a melody as rewarding as it is familiar.

So, does it ever get old to Foltz?

"Not to me it doesn't,'' he said. "it's the sound of business and money.''

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