New Orleans more vulnerable as technology advances

New Orleans more vulnerable as technology advances

(WVUE) - Its location at the mouth of the Mississippi makes New Orleans vulnerable. Yet as technology has advanced, so have the threats.

From energy to agriculture, the Crescent City is crucial.

"The companies we rely upon every day to transport oil, to transport grains, other commerce entities up and down the river - it all starts here," said FBI Special Agent in Charge in New Orleans Eric Rommal.

For years, it has meant heightened security, starting in the Gulf of Mexico.

"There's a layered approach to our security and it begins with our international partners," said Petty Officer Lora Ratliff with the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is one of the first lines of defense, but Ratliff says they're always on the offense.

Three days before it's set to arrive, the Coast Guard checks out a ship and its crew.

"We evaluate where the ship has been as far as recent ports to evaluate any threat levels that might come from any recent ports," Ratliff explained. "Some vessels are required to submit to physical inspections before they're allowed to enter."

Ratliff says they operate locally, but assess threats both here and abroad, working hand-in-hand with agencies like the FBI.

"We have a number of threats and vulnerabilities that pass through our city every single day," said Rommal.

Rommal says New Orleans' spot at the mouth of the Mississippi has meant economic development, but it comes with a cost.

"Unfortunately, those kinds of advances often bring in bad actors taking advantage of those kinds of situations," he said.

The New Orleans FBI field office is one of 56 in the United States, but integral to the national economy due to oil and gas, energy sectors and government installations along the river and throughout the state.

"Everything that happens throughout commerce that is transported through the river or the pipe lines that run from Cutoff, Louisiana to the Northeast, that resides in our territory here, so we must be on the balls of our feet at all times," Rommal explained.

It's more important now than ever.

"At least in the CyberWorld, everything we do want to day-to-day basis is controlled and run by computer," said Rommal.

Rommal says, as networks expand and technology advances, so do the threats. It's why he says agents work around the clock to try to stay ahead of them.

"Rather than just react, our cyber program is very proactive," Rommal said. "Even if the threat emanates from the other side of the globe, our businesses are here in Louisiana, our partners...So, if our partners are here, the businesses are here and, ultimately the victims are located here. We must act locally to mitigate globally."

Rommal says it's important the FBI shares intelligence ahead of the threat before anyone is affected. That way, industries from tourism to transportation can take the necessary safeguards to protect their own systems.