While Focused Lens has not deterred or stopped a terrorist attack, Hill told the security expo’s attendees that in Sector San Francisco, the program has yielded ancillary benefits; it helped agents detect poachers, identify boating-under-the-influence hotspots, and discover maritime copper thefts and even some meth labs.
The personnel and resources of state and local maritime agencies dwarf those of the USCG. It’s a reality that the agency is well aware of and wants to exploit, except for one problem: state and local first responders do not receive the same standard of training as USCG employees. This discrepancy makes it difficult for local USCG stations to rely on state and local partners if they need help setting up a security zone around a piece of critical infrastructure or escorting a cruise ship, ferry, or vessel containing dangerous cargo in high-trafficked waters.
“Right now, a Coast Guard captain of a port may or may not have an idea of what their state and local partners know and what their abilities are on the water,” says Jeff Wheeler, the deputy chief of the USCG Office of Boat Forces. The result is a less secure maritime domain as state and local personnel and resources sit idly by, says retired USCG boatswain and port security specialist Mark DuPont.
But DuPont, in cooperation with the USCG, is trying to improve information sharing among agencies. In an attempt to standardize maritime safety and security training for law enforcement, he created the Boat Operations and Training (BOAT) program at NASBLA, where he is the program’s national director. The training for the boat program was adapted from the USCG’s own boat forces training program, which DuPont wrote.
The program, which consists of a series of discrete courses, each lasting five days, puts USCG personnel and state and maritime security first responders in the same classroom for the first time. Not only do they forge interagency contacts, says DuPont, but they learn a common operational language and practice response exercises together. As a result, if they need to coordinate a response in a real incident, they will all be following the same protocols and using the same terminology. Another benefit is that NASBLA brings the training to the agencies directly, which means first responders can train on their own equipment in familiar waters.
The USCG’s Wheeler has been impressed with the results. “About the third day in class, you really start seeing all these people come together [and] formulate training plans within their area; whereas in the past, you didn’t really see that,” he says. “This course…removes the wedge and brings all those folks together to all train in their harbor.”