DHS Special Report | Coast Guard Fine-Tunes Its Harbor Watch
Project Hawkeye combines data from sensors, cameras to detect suspicious activity
- By Mary Mosquera
- Jun 17, 2006
NIGHT-VISION CAMERAS used in Project Hawkeye combine with data from sensors to give the Coast Guard a clear picture of what's happening in a harbor.
Under the cloak of night, a vessel quietly floated in the channel waters at the entrance to the busy cargo, cruise and petroleum seaport of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As the vessel ran aground on a jetty, Coast Guard command center staff, who had been tracking the vessel's erratic movements on their monitors, alerted senior officials who had gone home for the night. The sector commander, logged into a secure Web site from home, tracked the activity as Coast Guard forces went out to investigate.
As it turned out, the vessel was not a stealthy security risk but a luxury yacht that had lost power and was drifting, with no one at the helm.
Still, the grounded yacht posed a risk of spilling hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel into the water in an environmentally sensitive area.
And the incident also served as an example of how the Coast Guard has expanded its reach in monitoring the nation's coastlines.
Project Hawkeye, piloted at Port Everglades, the Port of Miami and several others, gives the Coast Guard the ability'via a system of sensors and cameras'to identify and track vessels in harbor and coastal waters.
A force multiplier
In a natural or homeland security emergency, what's happening at the port and its environs will become part of the Homeland Security Department's nationwide common operating picture.
'Project Hawkeye is a force multiplier for the Coast Guard,' said Dana Goward, director of the Coast Guard's Maritime Domain Awareness Program Integration in Washington, D.C.
From its command center at the Port of Miami, the Coast Guard monitors commercial vessels there and in nearby ports and ocean channels, as well as the activities of small recreational vessels that act suspiciously. Hawkeye's sensors and long-range cameras with night-vision and infrared capabilities act as eyes on the coast and are viewed on displays at its command center, much like a security guard watches over facilities on closed circuit.
The Port of Miami provides an operating test bed, with 10,000 vessels arriving annually. It and nearby Port Everglades also are the top two cruise ship ports, Goward said.
As its port missions expand, the Coast Guard depends on the cameras, sensors and data from a ship's automatic identification system to give its resources more heft.
The automatic identification system, required for domestic and foreign vessels over a certain tonnage, identifies the vessel's name, its course, speed, and its latitude and longitude.
Hawkeye also reveals anomalies that the Coast Guard might have missed when security was a matter of conducting physical spot checks, said Capt. James Maes, Coast Guard Commander at the Port of Miami.
'With homeland security, you don't know what it is that you don't know, and we're starting to find out some things we didn't know,' he said.
Maes and his crew keep finding more uses for Hawkeye in their daily operations with commercial shipping and recreational-boating activities that transfer to homeland security tasks.
'It's like the Swiss army knife of technology. You find that there is another thing you need it for, so you don't know everything that the Swiss army knife is capable of doing for you,' Maes said.
For example, a large cement carrier ran aground as it was coming into Port Everglades in rough weather. Fort Lauderdale has environmentally sensitive coral reefs that are just offshore, but if a vessel positions itself correctly in the anchorage area it does not threaten the reefs.
With the vessel's automatic identification data, Coast Guard personnel searched its archives for the vessel's exact track to determine the time and location that the cement carrier ran aground. With that data, the Coast Guard was able to attribute the damage to the reef from the point where the ship ran aground, a quarter-mile from the point where it finally settled on the reef.
'We were able to ascertain that the damage that was caused to the reef was attributable to this particular vessel in this particular grounding incident.
Consequently, they were held liable for the remediation of that reef,' Maes said.
With components of Hawkeye and other technologies, the Coast Guard can define a box on the display'for instance, an area of one mile by one mile'and identify every vessel that's passed through that box in the last 24 to 48 hours.
'Project Hawkeye has been referred to as a silver bullet for ports,' Maes said.
Law enforcement officials have said that word has gotten around in drug and other criminal circles about the enhanced surveillance and analysis systems.
'Bad guys have been warning each other not to go into [the ports of] Miami and Charleston because of our increased presence there. Transparency is key to self-correcting behavior because bad things can only happen in the dark,' Goward said.
But Hawkeye still has more design spirals to go through.
By the end of the summer, the Coast Guard will finalize Version 1.3 of Hawkeye's software'the command and control and decision-support piece'which has been developed from government-owned vessel traffic software. Northrop Grumman Corp. provides in-house support.
'After this summer, we'll be able to replicate Hawkeye more easily at other ports,' Goward said.
The updated software will integrate all the control sensors feeding into a single picture and provide some decision support with electronic alerts and warnings when vessels approach areas that they're not supposed to. It will let staff draw electronic areas on the chart and, if someone has penetrated that area, send alerts.
Besides Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Hawkeye runs in the ports of Charleston, S.C.; Hampton Roads, Va.; San Diego, and, to a lesser extent, in New York and Boston.
The Coast Guard wants Hawkeye at the largest and busiest ports, so officials plan to install it, depending on funding, at Seattle; Long Beach-Los Angeles; Houston-Galveston, Texas; New Orleans and San Francisco, Goward said.
Although the Port of Miami authority, part of Miami-Dade County government, does not access Hawkeye, it benefits from Hawkeye.
'The Coast Guard has alerted us to situations that we've responded [to],' said Kenneth Christopher, chief of seaport security at the Port of Miami.
The port plans to implement a waterside surveillance system for which it hopes to tap into the Coast Guard's system. The port is in the procurement process now with funding from the Transportation Security Administration.
'We have to show [TSA] that whatever we are doing integrates well with what's happening in the external environment,' Christopher said.
The Coast Guard also plans to add automated 'scene understanding.' Ultimately, instead of Coast Guard staff staring at displays with an ever-increasing load of port and ocean sensors, the automated scene understanding would watch the activity for them and alert the command center to anomalies in vessel movements.
'If you add more sensors, at what point does the sensor operator become task-saturated or information-overloaded, or you have to add another sensor operator?' Maes said.
BAE Systems of Burlington, Mass., is developing the automated scene understanding, which the contractor calls SeeCoast Port and Coastal Scene Awareness Prototype and Demonstration System. The two-year contract, with a value of $3.4 million, was awarded last year.
The SeeCoast system integrates radar tracking data, video image streams, positioning information from automatic identification systems and other data to understand the coastal and port security scene, said Mark Luettgen, BAE vice president and division manager of fusion technology and systems.
The automated scene understanding, which comes out of DHS' Science and Technology Directorate's Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, will be able to alert when a vessel is outside of the criteria.
What's unique about the application is the situational understanding alerting toolkit, Luettgen said.
'It learns the normal port activities and then detects the deviations from what's normal,' he said.
The application will be designed to know what the anomalies are, first by providing business rules or criteria for what an anomaly is, and then how to tune the sensor to what the Coast Guard is looking for and why. It will integrate and make sense of the information Hawkeye collects, Goward said.
The automated scene understanding is in testing at the Joint Harbor Operations Center at Hampton Roads, Va., a joint Coast Guard and Navy operations center, Luettgen said.
The Coast Guard has it in its capital investment plans for Miami, starting in fiscal 2008, Goward said.
'There's a lot of information out there and to make sense out of it we've got to be able to fuse it and choose it, correlate it and decide what it all means,' he said.
Coast Guard wants the automated scene understanding to be a critical part of decision support for coastal monitoring.
'That has implications not just in maritime, but on land borders too, for decision support throughout the Department of Homeland Security,' Goward said.
From a homeland security perspective, Hawkeye is a local application but will ultimately be part of DHS' larger common operating picture. Once the network protocols and security issues are worked out, Coast Guard will link the local feeds to the national picture, Goward said.
The common operating picture is more of a service-oriented architecture, a user-defined operational picture, he said.
'The COP is this huge amalgam of networked information which users can access to build the picture that they need. Many people will only need a small geographic picture around where they are. Some national planners may want to get a picture that's nationwide but only information that pertains to a particular topic. So it's standardized information but people draw from that depending on what they need to look at,' he said.
The data that Hawkeye gathers on people, vessels and cargo will be compared with national databases, where the information could be validated or anomalies detected, Goward said.
Large vessels are required to issue notice 96 hours before arrival in a U.S. port. Local sector commanders, such as Maes, track vessels scheduled to arrive that day and compare that with the vessels that actually arrive that day. The commander also conducts research and ranking of vessels that are scheduled to arrive that day to determine which ones may require more scrutiny for safety and security concerns, Goward said.
'For a lot of these things, we used to have to send boats and helicopters out to do [that],' Maes said. 'It was very expensive and manpower-intensive. Now we can do a lot of this by using our sensors in our command center.'