The Next Wave of Synergy in Port/Maritime Security

Synergy, fusion, jointness, unity of effort – all are important characteristics to the success of the multi-agency operations needed to ensure the security of ports in the United States – but those laudable characteristics also are difficult to achieve, particularly when a broad spectrum of agencies control their forces from separate locations. At present, only a few ports have established multi-agency operations centers to facilitate the joint coordination of port-security activities: Jacksonville, Fla.; Norfolk, Va.; San Diego, Calif.; and Charleston, S.C..  With the exception of Charleston, the operations centers established at those ports are joint Coast Guard-Navy centers. In Charleston, the joint operations center, called SeaHawk, is shared by federal, state, and local security agencies to coordinate port-security activities. The number of multi-agency operations centers may increase significantly in the foreseeable future, though.  

The requirement to fuse capabilities, technologies, and agencies together in the maritime environment gained not only national attention but also some much-needed political traction when President George Bush signed the SAFE Port (Security and Accountability For Every Port) Act into law on 13 October 2006. To begin with, Section 108 of the Act directs the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “to establish interagency operational centers for port security at all high-priority ports not later than three years after the date of the enactment of the SAFE Port Act.” 

Uniformity and Diversity – Plus Training and Exercises 

The same section mandates that the new centers should function more or less (“as appropriate” is the language carefully used) the same way the centers already operational (and mentioned above), plus a so-called “virtual” center in New York City, are now functioning. Here it should be emphasized that, according to the Act, a one-size-fits-all design for the interagency operational centers is not intended. Instead, the Act calls for the centers to be organized “to fit the security needs, requirements, and resources of the individual port area.”  

There would be at least a few unifying characteristics, though. The Puget Sound center covers an area of over 3,500 square miles; it will be staffed by the Coast Guard and Navy as well as a number of civilian agencies For example, the new centers in each port would house the Coast Guard along with other key federal, state, local, and industry stakeholders in port security, specifically including such departments and agencies as Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense as well as a number of state and local law-enforcement and first-responder agencies and members of  Area Maritime Security Committees. U.S. Representative Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, noted in a press release that the bill also “requires DHS to establish joint operations centers at seaports to bring together federal, state, local, and private-sector partners to coordinate security measures and unify response efforts. Two amendments I offered, and that were attached to the bill,” he continued, “pertain to the importance of coordinated training and exercise efforts as well.” 

A Working Model, and a Major “If” 

On 15 August 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard joined with the U.S. Navy, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with other state and local agencies, to open the Puget Sound Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC), the fourth such facility established in the United States.  Leading the contingent of dignitaries who cut the ribbon ushering in a new era of maritime domain awareness for Puget Sound were Admiral Thad W. Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, and Deputy Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. According to a Coast Guard District Thirteen press release, “Pursuant to the Safe Port Act of 2006 the Secretary of Homeland Security was charged with establishing these centers with the goal of increasing interoperability amongst all key federal, state, and local maritime stakeholders.” Others present at the opening included Captain Stephen Metruck, USCG, the commanding officer of Sector Seattle, Rear Adm. Frank Drennan, USN, Commander of Submarine Group Trident, and John Batiste, chief of the Washington State Patrol. 

The Puget Sound JHOC would seem to be a good model to emulate by the other centers that must be opened in accordance with the Act. Its official jurisdiction covers an area of over 3,500 square miles; it will be staffed by the Coast Guard and Navy as well as a number of civilian agencies; and, most important of all, its charter requires it to “leverage technology, including sensor, detection, communication, and decision-making systems, in order to swiftly and accurately detect, assess, warn, defend [against], and recover from threats while [also] enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness and facilitating Homeland Security and Homeland Defense.” However, there remains a major “if” in the development of additional centers. Although the SAFE Port Act authorizes the funds needed for construction of the centers, the actual funding is subject to the annual appropriations process of the federal government. Only time will tell if future administrations and the U.S. Congress will carry through and fully fund these very important facilities needed for the creation of and steady increase in interagency synergy within the U.S. ports and waterways system.

Joseph DiRenzo III

Dr. Joseph DiRenzo III is a retired Coast Guard officer. He's visiting fellows at the Joint Forces Staff College. He has written extensively on maritime security issues. Any opinions expressed in the preceding article represent their own views and are not necessarily the official views of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Christopher Doane

Christopher Doane and Dr. Joseph DiRenzo III are retired Coast Guard officers and visiting fellows at the Joint Forces Staff College. Both of them have written extensively on maritime security issues. Any opinions expressed in the preceding article represent their own views and are not necessarily the official views of the U.S. Coast Guard.



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