THE MAGAZINE

Watching Over the Waterways

By Matthew Harwood

 

Force Multipliers

In January, DHS finally made public the main tenets of its Small Vessel Security Strategy (SVSS). The plan has been in existence since 2008, though it was not publicly released or fully implemented. (The full plan remains designated Sensitive Security Information.) The overall goal of the plan is to improve Maritime Domain Awareness, which, according to DHS, means “the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact our security, safety, economy, or environment.”

The SVSS recognizes that the only way to do this is by teaming up with the small vessel community and state and local maritime agencies to share information and resources. As part of that effort, the USCG is partnering with the boating public and state and local maritime first responders through various awareness programs.

Waterway Watch. The first program established by the USCG in the aftermath of 9-11, long before the SVSS was developed, was America’s Waterway Watch (AWW). Through that first attempt to leverage private resources, the USCG asked all who regularly use waterways or who work or live near the water to be its “eyes and ears” on the lookout for suspicious activity. According to an AWW brochure circulated to boaters, suspicious activities include unusual diving activities, boats anchored near critical infrastructure, or individuals pouring liquids into a reservoir or a waterway that feeds a reservoir.

Upon observing suspicious activity, boaters can call a national toll-free number (877-24WATCH) to report what they have seen. The calls are routed through the USCG’s National Response Center, where personnel are available to take calls on a 24/7 basis. Calls are screened and forwarded to the appropriate authorities in the region where the suspicious activity was detected. If boaters believe what they are witnessing constitutes an emergency, they are encouraged to call 911 or to radio the USCG directly on marine channel 16.

The concept for AWW was sound, but maritime security stakeholders tell Security Management that the program’s execution has been lackluster, primarily because of funding problems. Two years ago, DHS’s Inspector General (IG) concluded that the USCG’s AWW outreach failed to reach approximately 90 percent of the country’s registered boaters. A running gag was that “we were the best kept secret in the Coast Guard,” says AWW Program Manager Ryan Owens.

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