Multi-agency Approach to Port Security

Jul 15, 2011

Bringing Together Law and Technology

Weaknesses and Threats
Most serious security practitioners recognize the Western world’s vulnerability to ­maritime-based terrorist violence and that its inability to combat serious criminal activity at sea is increasing. Traditionally, global financial crises, like today’s, have resulted in marked deterioration of national and personal security. The need for flexibility in our national responses to maritime security challenges has never been greater, and with that flexibility comes the clear need for technology.

We, in North America, now realize our ability to respond conventionally is over-committed, manpower intensive and becoming less politically appealing. Yet there are rays of hope for NAFTA member-states, as recent New England conference attendees discovered. In May 2011, Rhode Island played host to the annual Ocean Technological Expo, once again demonstrating the increasing importance of technology to the heightened posture of the U.S. in its national delivery of a comprehensive approach to Maritime Security. The themes of technology and the multi-agency approach to maritime security were clearly evident. In particular, the work of both Warren Heerlein of the U.S. Coast-Guard, and Mike Grzechowiak of Rite Solutions, Inc. provided the audience with an update on how the Department of Homeland Security is delivering security in the maritime domain through its application of technology.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, U.S. authorities have been quick to recognize that the vital and strategic interests in maritime security depend in substantial part on the delivery of a sustainable, visual and heightened security posture for its 361 seaports. The national response is primarily based upon the ­Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act, which modified existing legislation and created new codified ­programs pertaining explicitly to maritime security.

U.S. Response
Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its U.S. Coast Guard, Transportation Security Admin­istration, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agencies have assumed responsibility for maritime security. Their work is overseen by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which has since reviewed:

  • Overall port security;
  • Security at individual facilities; and
  • Cargo container security including the Container Security Initiative (CSI).

Recognizing that maritime security is an international concern, both the DHS and GAO have visited domestic and overseas ports, interviewed personnel charged with the delivery of security, reviewed U.S. agency program documentation, port security plans and post-exercise reports (where applicable).  By establishing inter-disciplinary committees to share pertinent information with local maritime stakeholders, federal U.S. departments and their agencies have increasingly worked collaboratively to improve overall port security efforts. They have taken steps to establish effective inter-agency Maritime Security Operations Centres (MSOC) that deliver timely and actionable Maritime Domain Awareness, conducted security operations, and documented port and facility level Business Continuity Plans aimed at preventing attacks. All of this has been undertaken in a climate of significant resource constraints and the day-to-day challenges of meeting the SAFE Port Act’s requirements.

Despite such challenges, stakeholders have improved security at about 3,000 individual facilities through activities such as port facility-specific security plans, compliance inspections of facilities, and developing identification cards for port workers to improve the marine sector’s resilience to acts of maritime terrorism or infiltration by organized crime. Federal programs related to the security of cargo containers have dramatically improved as DHS agencies use focused intelligence to identify high-risk cargo and to collaborate internationally with other nations to guarantee container screening before the cargo even departs for U.S. destinations.

Federal agencies involved with port security in the U.S. include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). These three agencies currently operate under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. Additional to these three operationally focused agencies, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) publishes Maritime Security Reports and national planning-guides on port security.

R&D underway by the U.S. Coast Guard include activities such as:

  • Evaluating, boarding and inspecting commercial ships as they approach U.S. waters;
  • Countering terrorist threats in U.S. ports; and
  • Protecting U.S. Navy ships in U.S. ports.

The events of 9/11 were a watershed for the U.S. that forever changed its view on delivering national security. For instance, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 divided the Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions between homeland security and non-homeland security. To reflect the Coast Guard’s historical role in defending the U.S., the Act delineated PWCS (Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security) as the first-ever homeland security mission. The Commandant of the Coast Guard also ­designated PWCS as the service’s primary focus alongside its Search and Rescue (SAR) commitments.

Coast Guard watch-standers in the new First District Command Center.

The aim of PWCS patrols is to deter terrorists from exploiting the marine transportation system as a means of attack on U.S. territory, and denying them of the ability to target major centres of population, U.S. flagged vessels, or any sector deemed as critical infrastructure or a key resource. Here, the USCG has used statutory powers and operational capacity to:

  • Board suspect vessels;
  • Escort high value/high risk vessels;
  • Enforce security zones near maritime critical infrastructure and key resources (CI/KR); and
  • Patrol maritime approaches, coasts, ports, and rivers.

Balancing Deterrence and Resources
On April 4, 2011, the Port Resilience Operational / Tactical Enforcement to Combat Terrorism (PROTECT) system began trials in Boston Harbour. It is based on the concept of making the best use of limited resources while increasing deterrence against potential maritime terror attacks. Based upon game theory, it aims to schedule the operations of Coast Guard PWCS patrol vessels in a way that makes it impossible for observers to predict their destination or posture.

Future Plans
The success of the PROTECT trial has resulted in continued R&D funding, by the USCG, with extensive field testing of the system in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles/Long Beach harbours. These trials will use “Red Cells” as a window into the world of terrorism and organized crime, and as a means of creating realistic and demanding training for CG personnel.

In summary, the U.S. recognizes its maritime domain is its soft underbelly but, the country is also determined never to face the consequences of another terrorist atrocity on its soil. Leaders are fully aware of the importance of targeted efforts and coherence in its public response. The necessary legislations are in place and the many government departments concerned with maritime security are clearly delivering capable practitioners to the frontline and wholeheartedly participating in realistic exercises and operations – many of which trial new technologies at the forefront of multi-agency situational awareness systems.

The drive and effort to deliver maritime security are almost tangible and, lest we forget, their own revolution started with the infamous Tea party and ended with a supportive French Naval Blockade. So, it seems the U.S. is determined to glean maritime security lessons from history.

David Mugridge is an independent maritime security consultant, a Doctorate student at the Plymouth Business School, and holds a Research Fellowship at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies and Marine Affairs Programme, Dalhousie University.
© FrontLine Security 2011