The Coast Guard faces numerous challenges in protecting the U.S. maritime domain, a task which has always been more difficult than it should be – mostly because the multi-mission service historically has been both under-manned and under-funded. In recent years, though, the funding stream has been both larger and more predictable, giving the service the opportunity to develop closer relationships, and working partnerships, with local and state law-enforcement and fire-rescue response agencies. The principal Coast Guard goal in forging those partnerships is to improve its own maritime domain awareness and response capabilities, with local stakeholders making greater contributions than ever before.
For operational purposes, the Coast Guard’s local Captains of the Port (COTPs) are designated as the primary security coordinators, and on-scene coordinators for security-related incidents, within their respective zones. However, the Coast Guard also relies on the local agencies, more often than ever before, to handle the bulk of the primary response duties.
“The Coast Guard works with local and state agencies on a daily basis to reduce all hazards and threats to the homeland through the maritime sector,” said Commander Brian Gove, the service’s chief of prevention for Sector Miami. “We rely on the local and state agencies to be the eyes and ears on the water because there are numerous local agencies working within a single COTP Port Zone. In some cases the local agencies can respond to incidents much more quickly than the Coast Guard [is able to].”
A Three-Pronged Modernization & Upgrade Program The Coast Guard is currently going through a long-term service-wide modernization program to improve its command, control, communications, and response capabilities. More specifically, it is continuing to: (a) modernize its cutter and aircraft fleets through what is called the Deepwater program; (b) improve its communications and response capabilities through the Rescue 21 program; and (c) coordinate and expand its overall response capabilities through working relationships with such groups as the Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSCs).
“The Coast Guard, through the AMSCs, continues to work with local, state, federal, and industry stakeholders to develop risk-management plans … [as well as] business-resumption and continuity plans that … [reduce] maritime risk,” Gove continues. The COTP chairs the local AMSC, but most members of the committee come from local, state, and federal response agencies, port authorities, and local stakeholders, including businessmen.
Local and state agencies, and qualified maritime businesses, are eligible for port-security grant funds to help establish and operate the security programs needed to mitigate risk and improve response capabilities within local port areas. The Coast Guard awarded $388 million in port-security grant funds in fiscal year 2009, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law earlier this year, provided an additional $150 million in supplemental funding for port security.
The Port Security Grant funds are primarily intended to assist ports in enhancing maritime-domain awareness, according to Gove, but they also are used to develop and improve the risk-management capabilities needed “to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from [terrorist] attacks.” The grant program is expected to be funded at or near the same level next year so that the recent-year improvements in port security, response, and recovery will continue at much the same pace.
Rescue 21 Plus TWICs & Data Fusion = A Full Plate The previously mentioned Rescue 21 program modernization also will continue to improve the Coast Guard’s ability not only to respond to emergencies but also to enhance the service’s ability to carry out its equally important law-enforcement, marine-safety, environmental-protection, and homeland-security missions. “Rescue 21 has enabled the Coast Guard to determine the location of any VHF transmission that lasts longer than one second,” Gove commented. That capability “significantly reduces the time it takes for our search-and-rescue assets to locate those in distress, greatly increasing the rate of successful rescues,” he continued. “Rescue 21 meets the communication standards that enable the Coast Guard's interoperability with other federal, state, and local public-safety organizations and improves our command-and-control capabilities.”
The Coast Guard also will continue to work next year, as fast as possible under difficult circumstances, on implementation of the Transportation Workerentification Credential (TWIC) program. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration, 1.4 million people are already enrolled in the TWIC program, and over 1.2 million TWICs have been issued. The Coast Guard is working assiduously both on the somewhat complicated TWIC implementation regulations and on an acceptable standard for the biometric readers used in the program to help improve overall port security in general and, more particularly, to control access to sensitive areas of the port such as those where toxic chemicals are loaded or unloaded.
Adding to the USCG’s already full plate of duties and responsibilities is the fact that new “data fusion centers” are rapidly expanding throughout the United States to help improve data and intelligence sharing between and among federal, state, and local law-enforcement and emergency-response agencies. The primary objective of the 70 fusion centers already operational is to share data and analyze intelligence. Because the real goal is to improve the protection of the U.S. homeland, the centers do not focus exclusively on maritime issues but also on many other aspects of homeland security. Like many other agencies, organizations, and operational units formed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the fusion centers were established primarily to provide the intelligence and analyses needed to improve U.S. law-enforcement capabilities in general and thereby protect not only U.S. port and coastal areas but the American homeland as a whole.
The Coast Guard requested $9.95 billion in fiscal year 2010 for its operations and modernization budget. Assuming that all or most of that request is approved, the service’s modernization efforts will undoubtedly continue to improve for the foreseeable future, as will its response and readiness capabilities – but so will the already long list of Coast Guard duties and responsibilities.