Maritime FSOs: The New Breed of Homeland-Security Professionals

Not quite two years ago – on 1 October 2003, to be specific – the U.S. government officially opened a new career field for a large number of people in the fast-growing ranks of homeland-security professionals. On that date, the final rules relating to the nation’s maritime security were published, and many men and women who previously held such job titles as terminal manager, human-resource specialist, or owner/operator took on new responsibilities – namely, the duties they would have as facility security officers (FSOs) at port and maritime facilities throughout the United States.

The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) raised the bar for security measures both at facilities on land and on vessels afloat. Prior to 9/11, it was no secret that port security – or the lack thereof – was a large and growing problem in the United States. In 1999, President Clinton authorized the creation of an Interagency Commission on Crime and Security in U.S. Seaports. Among its findings was that the vulnerability of America’s ports to attack by terrorists was already high, and might be even higher in the future.

In a statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on 24 July 2001 – less than two months prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is worth noting – Acting Deputy Maritime Administrator Bruce J. Carlton said that, “While U.S. airports and land border crossings have well-structured security measures, our ports do not enjoy the same level of security even though they offer unparalleled intermodal access to our nation’s interior.”

That unparalleled intermodal access caused Congress to consider the passage of new port and maritime legislation, but the legislation that resulted dealt mostly with waterfront crime and cargo theft. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the previously mentioned Maritime Transportation Security Act, a law focusing primarily on maritime security, was finally passed (in November 2002). The goal of the MTSA is to prevent a maritime TSI, or transportation security incident – which is defined as an incident resulting in a significant loss of life, environmental damage, transportation system disruption, and/or economic disruption affecting a particular area.

Costly, Far-Reaching, and Absolutely Necessary

Among its many provisions, the MTSA mandates that certain vessels and port/maritime facilities that are found to be at risk for a TSI must prepare and submit security plans, and those plans must include provisions for establishing and maintaining physical security, passenger and cargo security, and personnel security. Each vessel or facility plan also must identify a specific qualified individual who would have full authority to implement security actions.

The MTSA is far-reaching and costly legislation that affects approximately 5,000 facilities across the country. The ten-year cost of the security measures mandated by the MTSA for those facilities (vessels not included, in other words) has been estimated by the Coast Guard to be approximately $5.4 billion.

A parallel movement to codify the security requirements of all of the world’s major trading nations was taking place at the United Nations. In December 2002, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS). This code requires, among its numerous security provisions, that port facilities considered to be at risk for terrorist attack(s) must appoint their own port-facility security officers, and also prepare appropriate security plans. For the first time in history, there would be a consistent international framework of security requirements accepted by, and required of, the world’s seafaring nations.

In the United States, regulations were passed to implement the MTSA requirements. In July 2003, the interim rules were published – in 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR); these were followed in October 2003 by publication of the final rules, which postulated a 1 July 2004 deadline for implementation.

Regrettably, a large number of facilities on or adjacent to U.S. waters have been found to be at a relatively high risk of a TSI and so came under the “umbrella” of the regulations. Among them, not surprisingly, are: facilities that handle certain dangerous cargoes and/or service vessels subject to the International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), and/or foreign-flag vessels. Also on the TSI-prone list are facilities that handle passenger vessels that carry more than 150 passengers; handle cargo vessels greater than 100 gross registered tons; or handle barges that carry certain types of hazardous cargoes.

The FSO position was established by the same rules, as were the requirements for FSO responsibilities and training. Generally speaking, the owner/operator of a maritime facility has the ultimate legal and financial responsibility for security, but the FSO also is assigned extensive security responsibilities – including certain duties that challenge FSOs, especially those employed by smaller facilities, who do not possess a strong security background.

A Long and Complex List of Responsibilities

The FSO must oversee the initial facility vulnerability assessments, the facility security plan development, the approval process, implementation of the plan, and the facility’s annual audit. He or she also must ensure that security drills and exercises are conducted regularly and effectively, and that security records are stored for the proper period of time and with due regard to sensitive security considerations.

In addition, he or she must:

  • Ensure that the security equipment called for by the security plan is tested, calibrated, and maintained;
  • Similarly, ensure that his/her security personnel are adequately trained;
  • Coordinate the facility’s security measures with his/her counterparts on board vessels in the port, and maintain the security of the vessel-facility interface (a point of particularly high risk for terrorist attack);
  • Establish and implement new security measures, when port-security – also known as MARSEC (maritime security) – levels change, and must report implementation both to the facility’s owner/operator and to the Coast Guard.
  • Most important of all: He/she must ensure that the facility is at all times operating in accordance with the measures set out – in considerable detail – in the security plan. The punishment for non-compliance with the requirements of this rule may include criminal penalties, substantial monetary penalties, and/or suspension of facility operations.

The rules allow the FSO to perform other duties within the organization as long as he or she is able to perform the duties and responsibilities of FSO. In many of the 5,000 facilities, therefore, the title “FSO” indicates a collateral duty and is but one of many hats worn on that particular head. In smaller facilities, the FSO may be the owner, sole supervisor, and one of just a handful of employees. Lt. Kimberly Wheatley of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment Grand Haven (Mich.) comments that, “These types of companies have usually between two to five people working at the facility, so with two of the workers acting as FSO and alternate, the remaining crew become the security force. The additional workload may mean higher wages, less time for day-to-day business (when the MARSEC level changes), and more training requirements.”

A Handy Acronym for an Unwelcome Mindset

The FSO also is in charge of the security “climate” of the facility – i.e., the overall security awareness and vigilance of the facility’s personnel. In this capacity, he or she must deal with another familiar acronym, IWNHH – “It will never happen here,” a mindset unfortunately common to far too many law-enforcement and security personnel (and to the general public as well).

James Bull, chief of the Facility Branch of the Office of Vessel and Facility Security of the Coast Guard’s Port Security Directorate, commented as follows on the need for a new mindset: “Just as employees learned that worker safety was a joint responsibility of the company and the workers, they now must be reminded that facility security carries the same joint responsibility and that it may well offer protection beyond the work site to their families and fellow citizens.” FSOs who are concerned about an attitude of complacency, Wheatley says, should “perform unannounced drills, conduct training – beyond the required quarterly training – and promote education.”

The MTSA also mandated the development of standards and curricula for the education, training, and certification of maritime security personnel. Earlier this year, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) published formal (but voluntary) approval processes for certain categories of maritime security training – a basic FSO training course is one of those categories. Det Norske Veritas NA was selected as the contractor to assist MARAD in the approval process.

Much of the routine training required for FSOs may be carried out on the job, but many companies are opting for special training for their FSOs, and their other security personnel, to make them more proficient in carrying out their MTSA responsibilities.

Above and Beyond the Core Curriculum

The rules spell out the qualifications, knowledge, and training that the FSO must possess. The list of skills and knowledge needed for this important new job is an impressive one, and includes not only general security skills but also knowledge of: relevant international and national maritime codes and laws; current U.S. government rules and regulations; security assessment methodology; instructional techniques; current security threats; the recognition and detection of dangerous substances and devices; and the conduct of physical searches and non-intrusive screening – in short, numerous subjects that were definitely not on the core curriculum of someone aspiring to be a terminal manager or a human-relations specialist.

To meet this daunting challenge, Bull says, FSOs “are going to be required to become more active as educators and facilitators for the training of employees and others in their role in the Facility Security Plan approved by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port for the facility. Telling a security guard at a gated entrance, for example, that he or she must screen persons and vehicles entering the facility means that the FSOs themselves are going to require a certain level of training in how to conduct an effective screening and even what a screening, versus a search, entails.”

The rapidly changing climate in the maritime threat environment requires that FSOs not only become qualified in their jobs but also remain as current as possible on any new homeland-security issues that might develop. “A great place to start,” Bull suggests, “is the Area Maritime Security Committee established in each Coast Guard Captain of the Port Zone.” (Some committees maintain open electronic mailing lists; the URL to sign up for these lists is Attendance at seminars also is strongly recommended by Bull and other officials.

Help Is on the Web

Frequent Google searches under key terms also can be invaluable. For example, a recent search found the helpful site FSOs bedeviled and/or bewildered by record-keeping requirements will appreciate the fact that a record-keeping software program has been designed by an FSO for the use of other FSOs. The creator of the software – called FSO-IMA (Information Management Assistant – is Nickolas LaFleur of Innovative Tools for Security Professionals, who says that the program will, among other things, store all of the records required by MTSA regulations.

It also will show at a glance, he says, the last drill date; how long it will be until the next drill date; all of the vessel information needed for any vessels with which the facility interfaces; all facility information for any other facility with which the company does business; and a broad spectrum of personnel information for unlimited numbers of facility and contract personnel The software also provides a number of required forms that can be tailored to the needs of individual facilities.

These responsibilities and training requirements point toward a need for a continuing conversation with the rest of the homeland-security profession, as well as the necessity for consistent and continuing cross training.

The need of current and future FSOs for emergency preparedness and response knowledge and capabilities requires them also to be familiar with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). Passenger vessel facilities or facilities in special circumstances may foresee a situation in which crowd-control skills would assist the FSO in devising and carrying out security measures appropriate for the vessel-facility interface (in this situation, the local police academy would usually be a valuable source of training material). The Lessons Learned Information Sharing Site of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – which integrates many homeland-security disciplines, information databases, and communications capabilities – also will be a valuable resource for FSOs (see

The FSOs and DHS officials have worked closely together since the beginning of this difficult regulatory journey. “When all is said and done,” LaFleur says about the FSO/DHS partnership, “it’s not the regulations that will make us resistant to terrorism, but the teamwork involved in multi-agency and private-sector communication and involvement in doing what needs to be done to reach the desired end.”



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