The Midas Touch

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Minimizing the risk of a water-borne or delivered terrorist attack is no small responsibility. Maritime Reporter visited recently with U.S. Coast Guard LCDR Stephen M. Midas, Chief, Planning and Risk Management Department, Marine Safety Office Hampton Roads, for some insights.

When historians document the early 21st century evolution of the U.S. Coast Guard, the current era will be considered a watershed for many reasons. In the midst of a dramatic transformation of assets and responsibilities, the Coast Guard, which was taken in whole into the new Department of Homeland Security, has been an exemplary extrovert in efforts to communicate with industry in the implementation of measures to meet the new Marine Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS). Tasked with burgeoning and ever-evolving responsibilities that transcends military, industry and public service, it has been a lead voice in helping to secure our shores while facilitating the business of the world's lead trade partner.

Alternately, it has played some cards very close to the vest —understandably so — particularly in regards to its means and methods utilized to identify potential threats and critical waterfront infrastructure, the latter which was expanded significantly under MTSA.

Its role as protector versus known and yet-to-be-known terrorist threats must constantly be weighed against the need to facilitate efficient port operations, all the while maintaining a long list of traditional duties that are core to the public interest.

While the knee-jerk reaction to enhanced maritime security capabilities may be the integration of the latest technological product or system, it is apparent that there is no "silver bullet" solution to mitigate these threats, and the buzz word today is taking the 'layered approach' to maritime and port facility security. "Industry in this area and across the country realizes and understands that they all have a role, and that this is an all hands evolution," said Midas. " The challenge is getting everyone together, playing off of the same sheet of music."

Central to this is communication, and LCDR Midas was one of the key people behind the effort to improve coordination and communications between local groups like the Hampton Roads Harbor Safety/Port Protection/Emergency Control Committee, which was recognized by headquarters as the 2003 Harbor Safety Committee of the Year, the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council and the Area Maritime Security Committee. The humble Midas would be reluctant to take too much credit though. "One of the biggest complaints that we had was that no one was talking to each other," said Midas. "We started with the Port Security Committee to ensure everyone knew the other guys' business and capability, to better coordinate response (to an emergency)." Maritime Safety Committee, of which there are approximately 75 members (in the local AMS), with a 15-member executive committee representing the state and local governments, as well as industry." Across the country there are a total of about 46 Area Maritime Security Committees.

Regular communication, mixed with awareness of local waterfront and infrrastructure assets, classroom training, on-water training and simulation are all major steps in the enhanced security direction.

Safety and Then Some

While communication and cooperation between government and industry is a key to maritime security, it is far from the total solution. Midas admits that physical assets, such as more boats patrolling the waterways; more people, whether regular Coast Guard or civilian; advanced detection such as radiation detectors; and computer-based programs help to round out the task at hand.

A cornerstone in the Coast Guard's effort to identify and thwart threats before they reach U.S. shores is a technological one, in the form of a new computer-based tool that is used to assess risk, as well as identify critical waterfront infrastructure. While Midas could not share details on how the system works or discuss the threats that have been identified, he assured that maximum effort is being paid to the issue of maritime security.

The mantra today is "extending the borders" of the U.S., by getting more information on shipments to the U.S. before they arrive on U.S. shores, and he credits the cooperation of industry, the international community, as well as new technologies that "allow us to look inside of a box" with helping to achieve this goal.

At the same time, he was quick to point out, the USCG must still maintain itself to address traditional duties, such as Search and Rescue, oil spill response, coordination of military outloading and preparing for a myriad of special events, such as aircraft carrier ceremonies at Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding. "That's still here," he said, "it does not all go away just because of MTSA."

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