The many and complex components of the U.S. maritime transportation system (MTS) form a huge interrelated network. In 2003, Captain William Schubert, administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), provided the Pennsylvania House of Representatives a number of impressive statistics about the size of the MTS – which, he said, includes 25,000 miles of inland, inter-coastal, and coastal waterways, 361 ports, and 1,914 cargo terminals. The MTS moves 120 million ferry passengers annually, he also pointed out, creates recreational opportunities for literally tens of millions of boaters, and carries half of the worldwide cruise-fleet passengers. Schubert also testified on the economic importance of the MTS – which at that time, he noted, employed 13 million people and was contributing approximately $750 billion each year to the U.S. gross national product. The economic and employment figures have increased somewhat since and are projected to escalate significantly for many years to come. The economic and political importance of the MTS make it an immensely attractive target to terrorists, though – and its size as well as its complexity make it extremely difficult to defend. The U.S. Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for maritime homeland security, has been assigned the almost impossible responsibility of protecting and regulating this massive system – which members of the 9/11 Commission and experts in the fields of terrorism and counterterrorism agree is particularly vulnerable to future terrorist attacks. A Versatile New Resource Even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, fortunately, the Coast Guard was planning to link all of its employees in a centralized online resource called Homeport – which over a span of several years has evolved into one of the service’s most versatile tools for providing online information and service to its many stakeholders. The Coast Guard describes Homeport as a publicly accessible Internet portal that provides users with current maritime-security information. The system also serves, though, as the Coast Guard’s primary tool to collect and communicate sensitive but unified information from and to certain groups of registered users within the port community. In that context, it serves as the one place, in many respects, that vessel, company, and facility security officers, as well as other port-security stakeholders, can turn to when the timely interactive communication required by maritime regulations is most needed. When the maritime security (MARSEC) level changes in the port community, for example, certain stakeholders must report compliance (or noncompliance) with rules requiring the implementation of additional security measures. This reporting can now be done via Homeport – which, not incidentally, provides a helpful forum for dissemination of threat information to and throughout the same port community. Members of the general public can access the system to browse through Homeport’s public areas, where they will find, among other things, a wealth of maritime-security information now available from http://www.uscg.mil. Eventually, all of the maritime-security content on the main site will be migrated to Homeport. Anyone researching or writing about maritime security, or who simply wants to stay current in the field, will find much of the unified information now available resident in one place – i.e., within the Homeport system. A quick examination of the site’s Library provides some relevant examples. In the Library, under “Forms,” there is a fillable document – i.e., one that can be filled out and then printed – called a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The NDA form is a tool that the maritime community uses to register compliance with the requirements of sensitive security regulations. Under “Laws and Regulations,” Homeport provides links to the main pages with the search functions of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the U.S. Code (USC), and the Federal Register. The nation’s Incident Command System has its own channel in the Library, and here the user can retrieve the latest news from or about the NIMS (National Incident Management System) and/or various Incident Center Alerts. Coast Guard policy documents, directives, and marine safety regulations are available here as well. Links, Highlights, and “Need to Know” A new public-access visitor to Homeport finds that the site’s homepage highlights a number of central news blocks featuring articles about the Coast Guard and various maritime-related subjects, as well as links to numerous maritime-security policy documents. The top tabs include a link to a Port Directory on which the visitor can find the name of his or her own local Captain of the Port. The Port Directory page also includes a number of links to Coast Guard units, plans, and programs. The “private” face of Homeport is a secure one, reserved for persons with a need to know (as determined by the Coast Guard), that lists the Homeport functions available only to registered users. Although the complete description of these functions is also secure, the public documents on the site provide certain helpful indications – but without giving specific details. The secure site, which allows registered users to exchange sensitive but unified information, hosts a function called a Community. The latter is described as a secure collaboration space in which a group of people with a common interest can conduct online discussion forums, create and maintain checklists, manage tasks, and conduct secured document sharing. The Community function would be particularly beneficial for a group – e.g., facility or vessel security officers – who share a common interest but are widely scattered geographically. The secure face of Homeport also serves as a platform for communication within an Area Maritime Security Committee (AMSC), the membership of which includes representatives of all of the principal stakeholders – local government officials, shippers and ship operators, the business community, and other “stakeholders.” The AMSCs, which are regulated under 33 CFR 103 and come under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard’s local Captains of the Port, have been established in all major U.S. ports in recent years. The AMSC is in theory the one place in space in which all members of a specific port-security community can quickly come together – and stay in contact with one another for as long as is needed. One of the AMSC’s principal purposes is to assess security risks to the port community and determine mitigation strategies, which are spelled out in an Area Maritime Security Plan. Because the Homeport site provides mechanisms for information distribution, collaboration, and email notifications to and throughout the AMSC, its availability may eliminate the need for each Captain of the Port Zone to host its own secure AMSC site. Navigating the HomeportThe Homeport tutorial (found in the center of the homepage, under “Missions”), although directed to registered users, also is interesting to the general public because it demonstrates so many aspects of the site’s flexibility. The tutorial addresses such matters as basic terminology, how to obtain a password, how to log in, how to view and/or change one’s personal profile, and how both to customize the site’s appearance and personalize the available content. A tutorial on the function, which is easily viewed by dial-up modems, can be navigated via a function bar on the bottom of the screen The site’s designers also have included a “bread-crumb” function, explained in the terminology section. Anyone who has ever stared at a computer screen and could not remember how he or she had maneuvered (or, perhaps, aimlessly wandered) to that point probably has wished, without knowing the meaning of the term, for a breadcrumb function – which, basically, provides a roadmap back to the starting point used by the viewer/operator. The Homeport’s breadcrumb function is in the upper-left hand portion of the site, underneath the tabs. Lost or forgotten passwords are an issue, and a frequent problem, for any site. The Homeport tutorial provides the solution by walking the user through a retrieval procedure in a manner that is both visually retentive and easy to understand. Another helpful feature is that the registered user can personally control the appearance of his or her own version of Homeport. “Portlets” (on the right navigation bar, providing access to information or resources or providing services or tools) and “Channels” (on the left navigation bar, containing organized groups of sub-channels such as “Domestic Vessels” and “Facilities”) can be moved around in the site, and the volume of information being displayed also can be controlled. Areas of particular interest to the registered user can be grouped into an alert function. When new material becomes available on the topic or topics selected, an ALERT tab will flash red. In a nod to human nature, registered users who have re-designed the site past all functionality can return to the original layout with a click of the RESET TO DEFAULT tab. In keeping with the Coast Guard’s traditional responsiveness, particularly since 9/11, to the needs of all team members in the port-security community, Homeport also provides a mechanism, described under the “Enhancements” section, through which users can suggest remedies and improvements. The Coast Guard’s new Homeport Internet portal also has the potential to increase security awareness in the general public, primarily by providing a one-stop shop that can be used by any or all Internet subscribers to obtain the latest information available on a broad spectrum of maritime-security topics. Homeport already has increased the volume and frequency of communications within the various members of local port-security communities, and has fascinating collaborative possibilities in the Community function as well. The new security measures mandated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) placed a burden, and responsibility, on the users of the maritime transportation system that has been acknowledged both by the framers of the law and by the authors of the accompanying regulations, which were finalized in 2003. The Homeport system seems destined to be an increasingly useful tool that will help all stakeholders in the implementation of the new security measures that have been mandated.