The security environment at strategic seaports is uncertain ecause comprehensive assessments of threats, vulnerabilities, and port infrastructure and functions have not been completed. Recent efforts by the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, and other agencies at the ports have begun to address several important security issues, and maritime security legislation before the Congress may assist these efforts. Further, proposed legislation may provide a framework for seaport organizations to improve the coordination and dissemination of threat information.
There is a wide range of vulnerabilities at strategic seaports, including critical infrastructure such as bridges and refineries in close proximity to open shoreline, shipping containers with unknown contents, and an enormous volume of foreign and domestic shipping traffic.
Many of the organizations responsible for seaport security do not have the resources (such as trained personnel, equipment, and funding) necessary to mitigate all vulnerabilities. To determine how best to allocate available resources and address security at seaports, it is vital that responsible agencies involved follow a risk management approach that includes assessments of threats, vulnerabilities, and critical infrastructure and functions. The results of these assessments should then be used to better conduct risk-based decisions involving security planning and actions.
Since September 11, the organizations responsible for security at strategic seaports have increased emphasis on security planning. They now recognize that planning must include the protection of critical seaport infrastructure and assets that have not generally been considered vulnerable. Port authority officials stated that increased security planning has led to improvements in physical security, such as higher fences, more security personnel, and better coordination with local law enforcement and other agencies. The Coast Guard has taken broad actions forward and has redirected resources towards security planning improvements.
However, in their planning efforts, the organizations at the ports we visited applied the elements of risk management differently. At only one of six ports we visited were the results of threat, vulnerability, and criticality assessments incorporated into a seaport security plan that included all relevant agencies. The Port Mobilization Master Plan developed by the Port
Readiness Committee at this port employs a risk-based process and systematically identifies the mission, responsibilities, and functional relationships of each activity or agency involved in supporting a military deployment through the port.6 Specific weaknesses in the assessment process used at ports we studied include the following:
• Individual organizations at the seaports conducted separate vulnerability assessments that were not coordinated with those of other agencies and were not based on standardized approaches. The Coast Guard has taken the lead in developing a standard methodology for comprehensive
Port wide vulnerability assessments (also called port security assessments) that it plans to complete at 50 major ports, including all strategic seaports.
• Assessments of the criticality of seaport infrastructure were not done at all the ports we visited prior to September 11. The Coast Guard has since addressed this shortcoming by conducting assessments of high-risk infrastructure at all major ports. It coordinated the assessments with commercial facilities at the ports. Criticality of seaport assets and functions will also be incorporated into the port security assessments.
• In some cases, threat assessment information received by agencies at the ports is based on higher-level regional assessments that do not focus on the local port facility. These regional assessments, while helpful in providing a broader view of the security environment, do not provide site specific local threat information to the port.
• Agencies involved with seaport security have different concepts of how threat assessments should be developed and the degree to which threat information should be shared and disseminated. Some agencies have not traditionally shared threat information as widely as may be necessary for comprehensive security measures at seaports.
In addition to these specific weaknesses, we found that there is no single mechanism (such as a working group or committee) at the seaports we visited to analyze, coordinate, and disseminate information on a routine basis on the broad range of threats at each port.
Most threat information at the ports was coordinated on an informal basis, such as through personal contacts between law enforcement individuals and those at other agencies.
The lack of such a mechanism compounds the already difficult task of protecting deploying military forces and increases the risk that threats both traditional and nontraditional ones may not be recognized or that threat information may not be communicated in a timely manner to all relevant organizations. Currently, interagency bodies at or near the such as port readiness committees, joint terrorism task forces, or the newly formed antiterrorism task forces, do not routinely coordinate threat information focused solely on the ports. The port readiness committees were designed to prepare commercial ports to conduct military movements. The task forces were designed to focus on threat information but on a regional rather than a port level
The need for efficient coordination of threat information has been amply documented and recognized, and there are examples of improved coordination efforts. The Interagency Commission on Crime and Security in U.S. Seaports noted in 2000 the importance of interagency threat coordination. The commission said that officials at seaports need a means to analyze, coordinate, and disseminate information on the broad range of threats they face.
This includes information on ships, crews, and cargo and information on criminal, terrorist, and other threats with foreign and domestic origins. Although the commission did not recommend centralizing threat information distribution into a single agency or regulating dissemination procedures at seaports, it did recommend improvements in integrating threat information systems and improved coordination mechanisms for law enforcement agencies at the seaport level.
Furthermore, the Coast Guard recognizes that agencies involved with seaport security are currently unable to adequately analyze, share, and exploit available threat information, and it also recognizes that asymmetric7 military and terrorist threats have a natural gateway into America via its ports. In response, the Coast Guard has developed a “maritime domain awareness” concept that emphasizes a risk management approach for preventing or mitigating both traditional and nontraditional threats through the analysis and dissemination of threat information. The concept involves being knowledgeable of all activities and elements in the maritime domain that could represent threats to the safety, security, or environment of the United States or its citizens. Through the timely delivery to the appropriate civilian or military authorities of processed information, drawn from all available sources, effective actions involving limited resources can be taken. Additionally, the maritime domain awareness concept allows the Coast Guard and other relevant agencies to incorporate nontraditional threat information, such as unintentional biological hazards in empty cargo containers or impending weather hazards into actionable intelligence. Both of these issues can constitute potential threats to a port and its operation.
In commenting on a draft of this report, Transportation Security Administration officials agreed that the coordination and dissemination of threat information at the port level is an issue that needs to be addressed.
They noted that the Transportation Security Administration is overseeing studies (as part of “Operation Safe Commerce”) aimed at identifying potential threats and risk mitigation techniques that will contribute to meeting this goal.
Finally, as we have previously reported, DOD uses threat working groups at its installations as a forum to involve installation force protection personnel with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to identify potential threats to the installation and to improve communication between these organizations. These working groups help coordinate as much information as possible on a broad range of potential threats. Given the limited information available on threats posed by terrorist groups or individuals, such a mechanism assists the installation commander and local authorities in gaining a more complete picture of internal and external threats on a more continuous basis over and above what is provided by an annual threat assessment.
Current Risk Management Approach Creates Uncertainties about the Security Environment at Strategic Seaports