New tools aid Coast Guard in port tracking

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.

The Homeland Security Department's Directorate of Science and Technology 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, who heads the Coast Guard's Miami sector, testified at a field hearing Nov. 26 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.

Although the program is resulting in improved maritime domain awareness, there are still 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.'

In addition, Schultz 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, chief executive officer of the Mariner Group LLC, of Columbia, S.C., which is providing its CommandBridge software solution to address the need for situational awareness in 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.

Altough the visualization project is working successfully, 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. In some cases, however, the transponders are turned off accidentally.

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 further 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.

Alice Lipowicz writes for Washington Technology, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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