Maritime securityMaritime Security: Better tracking of small craft needed

Published 30 November 2007

The Coast Guard use the Port of Miami to test the Visualization Tools for Situational Awareness and Emergency Response program; the Viz Tools program enhanced security at the port, but those in charge say there is still a gap in port security, and to plug it there is a need to know more about about registered small craft in the Miami area; more than 170,000 of these small boats and craft are registered

During the past two weeks we covered maritime security developments in greater depth, as part of our coverage of E. J. Krause’s 2007 Maritime Security Expo, which took place in New York on 27-28 November. Others, too, pay growing attention to maritime security. New visualization tools are helping the Coast Guard develop situational awareness at the Port of Miami, but more assistance is needed to track small boats and noncooperative vessels, according to congressional testimony given this week. Washington Technology’s Alice Lipowicz writes that DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate is funding the Visualization Tools for Situational Awareness and Emergency Response program, also known as Viz Tools. The project is a proof-of-concept demonstration to correlate sensors and automated vessel-tracking information with advanced notification-of-arrival information and other port activity, Commander Karl Schultz, head of the Coast Guard’s Miami sector, testified at a field hearing 26 November of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism. The hearing was held in Miami.

The visualization tool program — along with Project Hawkeye, which is a sensor network surveillance project for Miami and other ports — is serving as a test bed for Command 21, the Coast Guard’s next large upgrade of its command centers. The program will improve maritime domain awareness, but there are still yawning gaps. For example, the Coast Guard needs better information on the 170,000 registered small craft in Miami, Dade and Broward counties, Schultz said. “The small boat threat … continues to present technology and policy challenges and remains a primary maritime security concern,” Schultz said. “Within [DHS], we are working closely with Customs and Border Protection to expand our efforts to secure the small maritime craft environment.” Schultz also said the Coast Guard still has a long way to go to managing all the information needed for daily operations and decision making. This includes coordination of programs for tracking large vessels, such as the National Automatic Identification System, Advanced Notice of Arrival process, and the forthcoming International Maritime Organization’s Long Range Identification and Tracking system.

Stephen Dryden, CEO of the Columbia, South Carolina-based Mariner Group LLC, which is providing its CommandBridge software solution to the Viz Tools project, also testified at the hearing. He said the objectives of Viz Tools are to develop and maintain situational awareness, identify threats rapidly, maximize assets and operational capacity to respond to the threat, and plan and manage the emergency response. Before Viz Tools, those standing watch had to achieve situation awareness by monitoring radars, harbor pilot Web sites, incoming messages, commercial media, weather and Coast Guard systems, he said.

Dryden agreed with Schultz that small vessels are a vulnerability. The ports need better sensor technology to track small boats and identify noncooperative vessels whose transponders for tracking through the Automatic Identification System are turned off. With today’s technology, ports fall short in their ability to track noncooperative vessels and small boats, Dryden said. Programs in development, such as the Coast Guard’s Automated Scene Understanding project, may help mitigate those problems, he said. Dryden also recommended additional aids to improve situational awareness, including the integration of cargo and vessel information into Viz Tools, more coordination with local law enforcement agencies and improved long-range tracking of vessels.