Today’s maritime realm is a complex environment characterized by diverse stakeholders with competing and overlapping authorities and requirements and multiple asymmetric threats. Compounding these challenges are the vastness of that realm, the vital importance of the maritime transportation system to world economic well-being, and the relative lack of resiliency of many nodes of this vital enterprise. While simply responding to incidents within this system may have been acceptable in the past, more is demanded today. In sum, mission success is increasingly measured by the result being a “non-event,” where a mishap or threat is identified early enough in its development to prevent or substantially mitigate negative consequences.
A Shift in Awareness
Fortunately, this previously difficult-to-achieve outcome may be made more likely by an enhanced ability to anticipate founded on optimized fusion and shared information that allows a growing coalition of maritime security providers to foresee rather than simply react to mishaps and threats. This power to anticipate is a quantum leap beyond the concept of a common operating picture and represents a higher level of shared synchronized situational awareness.
In many ways, the term common operating picture is a misnomer. How a given user decides to view the information is irrelevant; what is relevant is that everyone uses the same time-synchronized information drawn from trusted and authoritative sources. The new term should be shared synchronized situational awareness, meaning that all decision makers at every level know the same thing at the same time—regardless of how they choose to display the information. Such awareness, made possible by the tools of the information age, is rapidly supplanting industrial age, hierarchical command-and-control constructs by harnessing collaboration and coordination across government agencies to achieve real time unity of effort in maritime security.
Our current paradigm of regulating the sharing of information, however, is based on “need to share, need to know” and stifles the flow of information or creates undue risk. Shared synchronized situational awareness is critical to the unity of effort across diverse coalitions to achieve mission success in a highly dynamic operating environment where there is no time to assess requests for information. Instead, a new paradigm focusing on a “Triple P” model of protocols (how we share data and information), permissions (with whom we share information and data), and protections (how we keep the data and information safe), agreed to prior to or in the first seconds of an event, must be adopted. This shift will sustain and empower trust within a given coalition facilitating information flow.
History is full of examples where shared awareness may have changed outcomes—maybe none more prominent than the attack on Pearl Harbor. If key decision makers had the ability to rapidly fuse all-source information and intelligence and share the resulting awareness, Admiral Husband Kimmel, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, might have had a better understanding not only of Japanese intentions but also of the veracity of the advisements and warnings he was receiving.
At the tactical level, shared synchronized situational awareness between the Army and Navy would likely have led Kimmel to be informed immediately of the Japanese midget sub contact and the Army’s radar detection of a large flight of inbound aircraft. With this additional knowledge, it is probable that Kimmel would have had his forces better prepared prior to the attack and may have even been able to orchestrate a relative non-event. Of course, Kimmel did not have the advantages of modern technology, but we do, leaving us no good excuse should another surprise attack strike us from the sea.
Securing a Complex System
In the face of progressively austere budgets and increasing threats of natural and manmade disasters, unity of effort among the various agencies and private sector actors responsible for ensuring maritime security in a multi-threat environment has become increasingly important. Achieving this unity requires even closer collaboration and coordination through meaningful advances in maritime governance, operating frameworks, and especially shared synchronized situational awareness. It also must be maximized at the port (tactical), regional (operational), national (strategic), and global (grand strategy) levels. With its broad authorities and long presence within and alongside the defense, interagency, and private communities, the Coast Guard is well positioned to join with these entities to spur enhanced unity of effort among maritime safety and security providers.
The security of our maritime environment is vital to the survival of the United States—we are a maritime nation dependent upon the maritime transportation system for our economic and national security. In addition to the significant amount of business and revenue generated by U.S. recreational and commercial maritime users, over 95 percent of our foreign trade in raw materials, supplies, and goods that sustains our economy is conducted via maritime routes. Our ability to project power requires the maritime transport of military supplies and hardware. Whether we live near the shore or far inland, little in our daily lives is not connected in some way to the sea.
With nearly twice as much maritime as land border, over 360 maritime ports of entry, and more than 3.4 million square nautical miles of exclusive economic zone containing extensive mineral, energy, and living resources, our maritime domain is the world’s largest. Adjacent to it are vast oceans that form a maritime commons under no nation’s jurisdiction, where legitimate and illegitimate users may operate in relative obscurity. Within it exists an incredibly complex transportation system used by merchant ships of all states with crews of every nationality imaginable, U.S. and foreign fishing vessels, hundreds of commuter ferries and cruise ships, and hundreds of thousands of recreational users. Further complicating the situation is that the infrastructure supporting this transportation system is owned and operated by an array of private companies or state port authorities that are often in direct competition with one another.
Securing our vast and immensely complex maritime domain and marine transportation system is beyond the ability of any one agency or entity. Instead, a number of federal, state, and local agencies are charged with protecting that system against a variety of accidental, intentional, manmade, and natural threats from multiple vectors (surface, subsurface, air, and cyber). Each agency has authorities, jurisdictions, and duties that can be unique, overlapping, or intertwined with those of other agencies. In addition, each agency possesses its own culture, perspective, and priorities that make it unique in both its understanding and its approach to threats. In the public sector, there are a multitude of independent private sector maritime owners and operators who also share responsibility for securing maritime operations. Within and between each of these sectors are competing interests that often create tension and undermine cooperation.
Published in 2005, the National Strategy for Maritime Security recognizes the need for unity of effort in securing our maritime domain. The strategy calls for a “comprehensive and cohesive national effort involving appropriate federal, state, local, and private sector entities” to secure the nation’s maritime environment by “blending public and private maritime security activities on a global scale into an integrated effort that addresses all maritime threats.” The strategy affirmed that “the Department of Homeland Security, with the U.S. Coast Guard as its executive agency, has the primary responsibility for maritime homeland security.”
With so many independent agencies and the private sector sharing responsibility for the security of our maritime domain, mission success depends on unity of effort, yet often without unity of command. This is best achieved through a triad of:
• Shared synchronized situational awareness that empowers collaboration and aligned decision making and is derived from three significant components—what the authors consider the three “Ps:” protocols, permissions, and protections;
• A common governance framework that synthesizes the various authorities, capabilities, capacities, competencies, and partnerships of the coalition;
• A common operating framework that facilitates collaboration, sustains trust, and supports coordinated yet independently controlled action.
Within this triad, the key to effective unity of effort among the maritime-security coalition at every level, from the ports to the global maritime, is shared synchronized situational awareness, which is the foundation that allows the coalition to align decision making. This awareness need not be derived from brick-and-mortar joint command-and-control nodes, but from highly automated shared virtual data systems that synthesize “big data” into relevant information. Additional context can then be provided by the unique knowledge and experience of coalition members to create shared knowledge. Simply described, data that may appear unimportant to some members may be recognized as unusual and potentially threatening by others, raising the alarm for all. As the process repeats, the participants in the system continue to learn and adapt to potential threats. The process for capturing and disseminating this information must be accomplished within a timeframe that enables effective action. This decision cycle can be thought of as a continuous OODA (observe, orient, decide, and act) Loop. The challenge is to achieve this higher order cognizance in a timely and operationally-relevant manner for field operators.
“Big data” include all of the imaginable (and yet to be imagined) data sources available from local to global—a nearly infinite number of potential sources. Every member of the maritime-security coalition continuously collects data regarding activities relevant to their particular purposes. In addition, there is a nearly endless list of maritime users recording and/or discussing happenings in the maritime domain on just as nearly an endless number of electronic media. Marina and maritime facility operators collect data on long- and short-term facility users. Commercial operators have schedules of movements and discuss maritime activities over the radio. Everyone exchanges current event information on social media. Further, decision makers can gain valuable situational insight from public sources such as cable news. Any piece of data or combination thereof, if properly captured and understood by security forces, could identify a threat before it fully evolves.
The challenge for securing today’s maritime environment is not the lack of data, but abundance. Humans can only absorb so many disorganized data inputs before they become saturated; we also have difficulties in recognizing patterns and anomalies in large data sets. In contrast, today’s information technology can absorb massive amounts of data, rapidly process it according to tailored instructions, and communicate processed output through customized interfaces to humans for understanding and comprehension. Never in human history has such technology existed, and it becomes more capable and affordable by the day.
To enhance synergy and unity of effort, independent actions need to be coordinated through common governance and operating frameworks. Such frameworks are best exemplified in responses to maritime disasters like Hurricane Sandy. During these events, federal, state, local agency and private-sector responders unify under the National Response Framework, which provides a common governance structure, and the National Incident Management System Incident Command System, which provides the common operating framework.
Another example of employing common governance and operating frameworks in building effective coalitions is in our ports. Based on the requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA), each port formed an area maritime-security committee consisting of key federal, state, municipal, and private-sector maritime-security stakeholders. Led by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port as the MTSA-designated federal maritime-security coordinator, the area maritime-security committees share threat information and maintain an area maritime-security plan.
The plan identifies the port’s security risks and sets forth how the various members will work to mitigate these risks and respond to heightened security threats using the National Response Framework and National Incident Management System Incident Command System. All members of the port-security coalition form the committee either as a sitting member or participant and agree through the area maritime-security plan on how to best use their respective authorities, capabilities, capacities, competencies, and partnerships to secure and protect the port. The plan also serves as the common operating framework that specifies how coalition members will coordinate their security activities under their individual command-and-control systems. Part of what motivates this level of collaboration and cooperation within ports is the understanding that no one agency can ensure resiliency in the port; it is only through partnership that the port can thrive in a multi-threat environment.
Unity of Effort in Practice
Imagine the patrol commander of a Coast Guard security escort protecting a chemical tanker transiting through a crowded port. The patrol commander receives an alert on a wireless tablet that multiple tweets have been posted regarding three speedboats loitering in a small cove around the bend in the channel, a cove seldom used by recreational boaters. A second popup on the tablet informs the patrol commander that the state police have been notified of a cash purchase of three speedboats several weeks before by persons using false information. Using his fused display application on his tablet, the patrol commander can see that a state marine patrol boat is operating about a half mile from the location of the speedboats and texts the marine patrol to investigate the suspect craft well before the escorted tanker would pass the cove. All of these actions are taken within the context of pre-agreed, objective-based common governance and operating frameworks for the unified coalition effort.
Comprehensive shared synchronized situational awareness of a maritime-security coalition and the ability to self-organize based on that awareness creates a revolutionary capability. Collecting and sifting immense volumes of disparate data, sharing this processed “big data,” and converting this knowledge into a common operating picture enables forces to anticipate and react to a threat as early as possible.
This challenge requires systems that will consume any form of data and identify, flag, and display or communicate threat indicators in ways most helpful to the various users on different systems. The human interface should be limited to the various coalition members collaborating to flag or add context to anomalous data that deserves attention. The information produced by this process must be recognized as helpful, authoritative, and trusted by all in order to sustain and empower trust within the coalition.
This port model of shared awareness, based on cooperation and trust, needs to be replicated at the regional, national, and global levels. As the Department of Homeland Security’s executive agency for maritime security, the Coast Guard should lead this effort to build a strong interagency coalition at every level, similar to the role of its federal maritime security coordinators in the ports.
At the regional level, the various agencies responsible for implementing strategy at the operational level need to be identified and in turn organize and prioritize the governance and operating frameworks. In addition to their regional offices that oversee relatively small geographic areas, somewhere within each agency are those responsible for translating strategy into action on a broader geographic scale. These personnel are the operational element of each agency and need to be brought together to collaborate and develop a coordinated plan for implementing the nation’s maritime strategy that leverages the strengths of each. This plan needs to employ a whole-of-nation approach that leaves no gaps or excessive overlaps in our maritime security.
At the national level, the Global Maritime Operational Threat Response Coordination Center manages a process for federal security agencies to rapidly assess maritime threats to U.S. interests worldwide and decide upon a course of action. As such, the center provides a common governance structure and operating framework for most actionable maritime threats short of acts of war from a sovereign state—particularly those identified well offshore. What is missing is a common governance and operating framework for jointly creating the appropriate policy, strategy, and budget decisions to best ensure continuous maritime security through a whole-of-nation approach. The National Maritime Security Advisory Committee created by MTSA, while effective in addressing various maritime- security policy issues, needs to resemble more the area maritime-security committees to assess national maritime vulnerabilities and update the National Maritime Security Plan as appropriate while continuing to advise the Secretary of Homeland Security. This plan needs to further strengthen the concept of interagency collaboration and cooperation and provide both a shared strategic intent and a common national governance structure for decision making.
At the global level, the International Maritime Organization’s International Ship and Port Facility Security Code provides a common governance framework for maritime security, which in consort with emerging technologies, provides an opportunity for enhancing international unity of effort through shared situational awareness.
Leverage Collaboration for Success
The example given of the attack on Pearl Harbor pointed out a failure in shared awareness and governance, but history also provides examples of where a more collaborative approach leads to operational success. At the start of World War II, Germany’s command-and-control capability was centered around the Enigma machine. Fortunately for the Allies, Poland’s Cipher Bureau was able to reconstruct such a machine. As Europe was on a collision course towards war, Poland shared their capability with the United Kingdom. After the United States entered the war, Germany’s U-Boats sunk Allied shipping at an alarming rate. As Andrew Lycett noted in his 2011 article Breaking Germany’s Enigma Code, “A break-through came in March 1941, when the German trawler Krebs was captured off Norway, complete with two Enigma machines and the naval Enigma settings list for the previous month. This allowed the German Naval Enigma code to be read, albeit with some delay, in April, by allied code breakers.” The information was immediately shared through a structured form of maritime governance—the result was a dramatic drop in submarine attacks—a shared approach to operations, which connected the dots and resulted in a dramatic change in direction of the war and the creation of many “non-events.”
Maritime security in the 21st century information age must be founded on collaboration and coordination, synchronized situational awareness, and common governance and operating frameworks that share the goal of unity of effort. We must shed the rigid, hierarchical, top-down command and control system of decision making of the industrial age. Our operations must reflect the age in which we live, or we risk unexcused failures. The power to anticipate, through the tremendous power of information technology and shared purpose, presents an unprecedented opportunity to ultimately achieve mission success through “non-events.”
Social Media: Tapping Into Human Collectors for 1s and 0s
Social media has become more than a distraction or a way to pass the time. It is changing the way we respond to disasters and enhances our shared situational awareness. At just over 7 years old, Twitter claims to have over 500 million users who send 400 million tweets a day. Facebook also claims to have over 500 million users who spend over 700 minutes per month on the site. Each user is a human sensor, and each tweet or Facebook post is data, that when corroborated with other knowledge and patterns can provide vital information in anticipating or responding to an event.
Following the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Boston Police Department used Twitter to disseminate information and updates. The short, 140 character tweets, provided Bostonians a lifeline for communication and was the department’s best defense against misinformation. In a peer reviewed paper published in the journal PLOS Currents: Disasters, it was noted that Boston area hospitals monitored Twitter postings by officials and civilians to anticipate their response. Similarly, NATO forces in Libya utilized tweets from rebel fighters to gain information not available by other means. Information gained from tweets was combined with collected intelligence to coordinate airstrikes that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Ghadafi regime.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, getting in contact with loved ones whose homes had been destroyed was difficult. Facebook users throughout New York and New Jersey posted their status online, letting their family know they were okay. Other families posted pictures of missing loved ones that peers and other users were able to use to locate them. The extensive personal networks inherent in Facebook allow for instantaneous peer-to-peer assistance and application. In the chaos after an event, when telephone lines go down or are overwhelmed, Facebook is able to provide that vital link.
The power to assimilate accurate, timely, and quick data via social media allows responders to anticipate needs and respond to events increasing our overall resiliency and shared situational awareness, as well as provide aid after an event.