The Need for a National Port Readiness Standard

The stage has been set.  Commercial port security is now a major national priority. But an important question still has to be answered:  If the Secretary for Homeland Security was asked to brief the president on the national maritime-readiness posture, where would he begin? Unfortunately, there is currently no universal national maritime-security readiness reporting system in place.

For that reason alone, preparing for the briefing would be a daunting task for the secretary. Pulling together a huge number of non-standard inputs on the security readiness of the nation’s more than 350 ports – and attempting to make sense of all that information, particularly as it relates to the myriad of threat scenarios that keep port-security professionals awake at night – would be a task that is virtually unmanageable at present.

The U.S. Coast Guard is already carrying out a large number of security audits, and also monitors the compliance of U.S. ports with the mandates set forth in the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). But those efforts do not in themselves constitute a readiness reporting system. Interestingly, though, there is a very large federal agency – the Department of Defense (DOD) – that reports on the readiness of its own branches, installations, and activities on a daily basis. The U.S. military has in fact spent many years perfecting a process that standardizes, codifies, and synchronizes current military readiness reporting with the nation’s short- and long-term war-fighting requirements.

To carry out this immense task, DOD uses what is called the Defense Readiness Reporting System (DRRS) as an auditable self-evaluation tool to report a unit’s present condition of readiness to and through the chain of command. Of course, the DOD primary mission, fighting wars, necessitates the availability and use of an accurate and comprehensive readiness reporting system.

Similar Mission, Similar Measurement Model

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a similar mission – on the home front rather than overseas – so would be well advised to evaluate the DRRS as the model for a similar national standard to evaluate and report the maritime readiness of the U.S. homeland.

It is already possible, both in theory and in actuality, for security readiness to be measured and reported in a way that provides DHS with critical information regarding the ability of U.S. ports to respond to various threats. First, though, standards must be established to quantify and qualify maritime-security readiness in a rational and coordinated manner. Following the establishment of such standards, a system must then be implemented that would allow those responsible for the nation’s maritime security to have a universal way to communicate not only with one another but also with other government agencies on security matters.

Here, the principal challenge for DHS might be to provide the U.S. maritime-security community with the methodology needed to facilitate visibility into each individual port’s ability to respond to various levels of increased threats. With all of the individual parts in place, the collective security posture and capabilities of all U.S. ports combined could easily be determined.

The solution would necessarily start with the individual port operator. All of the nation’s ports have a vested interest – as well as the responsibility to their constituents and stakeholders – to ensure the continued viability of an efficient and secure environment for global commerce. Port operators must manage readiness by aligning their own strategic objectives with tactical security requirements. By developing a framework for reporting and managing security performance data throughout the entire U.S. maritime-security domain – a framework that does not currently exist – DHS has the opportunity to unify readiness initiatives at the national level.

Major Coast Guard Involvement Mandatory

The creation of a national reporting system for maritime readiness obviously falls within the DHS charter. Moreover, the U.S. Coast Guard, a DHS agency that already has a long and effective regulatory relationship with U.S. ports, is well positioned to develop and implement such a system. However, all stakeholders throughout the U.S. maritime community have a vested interest in the safe, secure, and efficient operation of the nation’s port system. Because of the overall national-security stakes involved, though, it seems obvious that the federal government should finance the development and deployment of the maritime-security system (which then would be managed at the port level).

Through its USCG maritime-protection arm, DHS already mandates that all of the nation’s ports develop and implement facility security plans (FSPs) that create and control the standards of operation required from a security perspective. One state agency – the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) – that since 9/11 has been particularly proactive about managing security readiness has earned high praise from DHS and the Coast Guard by focusing on and investing in security initiatives that not only provide added security but also contribute to the improvement of business processes. VPA has implemented a strategic planning tool for security that provides valuable insights on how operations can flex within MARSEC (Maritime Security) conditions without impeding the core business of all U.S. ports – moving freight.   

The development of a national maritime-security readiness standard would further strengthen the public/private working relationship between federal, state, and local governments on the one hand and, on the other, the nation’s port operators. The adoption of more uniform, and more stringent, self-evaluation standards, combined with the submission of regular reports on security readiness, would have the added benefit of helping ports achieve better security efficiency, improve customer satisfaction, and ultimately, enhance the overall maritime-security readiness of the entire nation.  

Gavin O'Hare

Gavin O’Hare is a senior consultant with Trident Global Partners, a transportation consulting firm based in Annapolis, Md. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he is now an adjunct professor at the Academy as well.



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