The Northwest Seaport Alliance is open and operating, developing continuity plans with stakeholders

Mar 20 2020

Keeping the health, safety, and well-being of the public and our workforce is the top priority for The Northwest Seaport Alliance. Each of our terminals has modified its business continuity plan in response to the rapidly evolving nature of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The NWSA and our supply chain partners are also focused on mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

“Together, as The Northwest Seaport Alliance, we are committed to serving our communities and working with our partners. During this time of crisis, our regional and national economy depends on our gateway to provide emergency supplies, daily necessities and boost our larger economic recovery, while ensuring the safety and health of our workers,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck and Port of Tacoma Commission President John McCarthy, co-chairs of The Northwest Seaport Alliance.

“During these unpredictable times, we stand ready and united with all our partners to deliver operational excellence,” said NWSA CEO John Wolfe. “Our gateway is a critical part of the supply chain, supporting customers in the Northwest and the Midwest. I reassure you that we are open for business and willing to explore all avenues to maintain an efficient and highly functional gateway.”

Our international and domestic terminals have adopted mitigation plans, which include the implementation of social distancing measures, a reduction in access to terminals for nonessential personnel and minimizing in-person contact between workers and customers. Terminals have enhanced and increased their cleaning and disinfecting services and are providing extra cleaning supplies, including hand cleaning stations. The NWSA’s labor partners have also taken similar precautions.

The NWSA is working in close coordination with our International Longshore and Warehouse Union partners and terminal operators to ensure our gateway’s critical services continue to operate in a safe manner.

The NWSA and its partners are also developing contingency plans should port operations be disrupted. We will continue to prepare for the potential impacts, which at this time are difficult to predict, with responses dependent on each situation. The organization impacted — whether it be a terminal operator, the longshore hall, or the NWSA — will continue to work with local health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine what steps need to be taken to mitigate the impact and ensure the virus is not spread.

Steps taken so far include:

• Terminals have on-call contractors in place for a complete terminal cleaning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

• ILWU also has an on-call contractor is in place for emergency cleaning of the dispatch hall and have identified alternative locations for dispatch services should the hall be temporarily shut-down for emergency cleaning.

• The NWSA has developed a contingency plan to support rebounding cargo and further boost the larger economic recovery. This plan includes near-dock container yards in Seattle and Tacoma that will serve container and chassis storage and enhance terminal operations.

All container terminals within the gateway are operating under normal business hours with very few exceptions. For the latest terminal schedule, visit the Terminals page on the NWSA website. For specific questions regarding terminal operations, please contact the terminals directly.


Image by The Northwest Seaport Alliance

Frequently Asked Questions about terminal operations

Q: The Port of Houston had to close terminals after a longshore worker tested positive for COVID-19. Does the NWSA have a plan if someone tests positive at the ports?

A: The NWSA and its partners are also developing contingency plans should port operations be disrupted. We will continue to prepare for the potential impacts, which at this time are difficult to predict, with responses dependent on each situation. The organization impacted — whether it be a terminal operator, the longshore hall, or the NWSA — will continue to work with local health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine what steps need to be taken to mitigate the impact and ensure the virus is not spread.

The NWSA has inherent redundancies in its structure and operations. The NWSA’s North Harbor (Seattle) and the South Harbor (Tacoma) each have their respective longshore and maintenance workforces. There are two dispatch halls and, under recently adopted rules, the waterfront workers in one harbor are precluded from traveling to work outside their homeport. Thus, a local outbreak (e.g., at a terminal) may affect one harbor, but is unlikely to halt all operations in the Gateway.

Q: As cargo volumes return to normal, how will the NWSA handle the influx of cargo and vessels?

A: Cargo is flowing smoothly through the NWSA’s marine terminals. The NWSA continues to work with the terminal operators to coordinate efforts to keep the facilities as fluid and flexible as possible. developing alternative near dock container yard services in Seattle and Tacoma to address storage of empty containers and chassis storage, reefer operations, and drop yards and hope to have these contingencies in place soon.

Q: What if travel restrictions are put in place in the Puget Sound region similar to the Bay Area?

A: The NWSA is actively engaged with state officials to ensure port operations and the workers that are responsible for moving cargo are classified as ‘essential’ workers authorized to continue to move under such conditions. This would include contactors that supply goods and services to the terminals.

Q: What are the requirements for vessels originating from affected countries?

A: The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for these requirements. Per 42 CFR 71.21, vessels destined for a U.S. port are required to report to the CDC any sick or deceased crew/passengers during 15 days prior to arrival at the U.S. port. Vessels with healthy crews continue to sail under normal conditions.

Q: What are the protocols at terminals for cleaning and checking workers for signs of illness?

A: All employees are being reminded that if they have any symptoms to not come to work and to notify their medical professional.

Q: Are there any concerns about shortages of cleaning materials for the terminals?

A: Terminals have on-call contractors in place for a complete terminal cleaning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, the NWSA is engaged with the state and federal government to obtain cleaning supplies earmarked for port operations to ensure the supply chain remains functioning.

Q: Some truckers have expressed concerns about using handheld phones to communicate with clerks and the potential spread of the virus. Are terminals cleaning those handhelds?

A: Handheld phones are an industry standard. Terminals are performing extra cleaning and disinfecting of the facilities including the gate pedestals. It is recommended that the drivers carry disinfecting wipes to clean the handheld prior to use.

About The Northwest Seaport Alliance
The Northwest Seaport Alliance is a marine cargo operating partnership of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Combined, the ports are the fourth-largest container gateway in North America. Regional marine cargo facilities also are a major center for bulk, breakbulk, project/heavy-lift cargoes, automobiles and trucks.

The Northwest Seaport Alliance, press release