THE MAGAZINE

Watching Over the Waterways

By Matthew Harwood

The USCG recognizes the need to change. “Ideally, what we’re looking at doing is enhancing the program to incorporate a much more dynamic relationship in the field,” Owens says.

Citizen’s Action Network. The answer to the lack of feedback is to morph from the current AWW model to what’s known as a Citizen’s Action Network (CAN). Originally developed in the Pacific Northwest by Coast Guard District 13, CAN tasks USCG officers, reservists, and auxiliary members with recruiting citizens living and working in port and coastal communities with excellent views of the water to keep their eyes out for anything suspicious. When a situation arises, communications flow both ways. CAN members can report anything they see to their local USCG sector, while local Coast Guard sectors can proactively reach out to certain members to get additional situational awareness when an event occurs in their area. DHS IG heralded the program as a national model that tracks “both the outcomes of the information provided and the degree of member participation.”

In the future, Owens says, an AWW call answered at the National Response Center will get routed to the Coast Guard sector where it originated. The USCG members in that sector will then reach out to the reporter and determine whether the suspicious activity report needs further investigation.

The USCG can also contact local CAN members, using its geographic information system, to see if its members can provide additional situational awareness to help assess the report, says Owens. Once the report has been fully investigated and a determination made as to its nature, a member of the USCG from that sector will contact the person who filed it and, unless it’s classified, fill him or her in on what action the agency took and whether what was witnessed was genuinely suspicious. Those interactions between CAN members and USCG sectors will be recorded locally, allowing sectors to evaluate CAN member performance. Once the policy is formalized, says Owens, sector field offices will deliver monthly reports on the program to USCG headquarters.

Another benefit of this approach is that as the USCG establishes good relationships with boaters and waterside residents who make reports, other boaters may get the word and be more inclined to become members of that sector’s CAN.

While AWW and CAN encourage boaters and waterside residents to do their patriotic duty to protect American waterways, self-interest should also be a motivating factor. “Nothing is going to have more of a negative impact on recreational boating or the legitimate use of the maritime domain than a security event,” says Fetterman. “If you have a horrible maritime terrorist attack in the Chesapeake Bay, I’ll tell you what, no one is going recreational boating in Chesapeake Bay for a long, long time.”

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