The first decade-plus of the 21st century has seen its share of disasters, both man-made and natural. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. The 2010 Haitian earthquake. The 2004 and 2011 tsunamis (the latter with an accompanying nuclear-reactor meltdown at the Fukushima plant). Hurricane Sandy. Some were unexpected, leaving responders scrambling to contain the damage. Others cast a harsh light on the results of poor planning and insufficient preparation, which in turn led to a great deal of finger-pointing. All were catastrophic, involving considerable loss of life and great physical destruction.
Why is it that highly trained professionals often seem surprised or unprepared for disasters? Many times decision makers fail because they overlook the obvious, according to Coast Guard Vice Admiral William Lee, Lieutenant Commander Leah Cole, and Dr. Joe DiRenzo III. These events, which the authors characterize as strategic surprises or predictable failures, should nonetheless be considered opportunities for leaders to think in a manner that moves beyond “classic strategic/operational planning and demands a more abstract . . . method of addressing those things that should not catch us off guard.” The authors speculate on the aftermath of a potential major earthquake along the New Madrid Fault Line in Missouri. The impact on the Maritime Transportation System would reverberate throughout the nation and result in “the single greatest economic loss due to a natural disaster in the United States.”
How would command and control (C2) function at the local and federal levels in the wake of a devastating event such as a major earthquake in the Midwest, the effects of which would ripple across numerous states? The implementation of dual-status commanders (DSCs) during Hurricane Sandy—the first time this system was used to respond to a real-world disaster—was largely considered a success, but the fact remains that the event was “only” a middleweight or normal-scale catastrophe. “DSCs should not be used as a ready-made . . . solution during future large-scale complex catastrophes—unless the affected states are prepared to compromise a degree of sovereignty to maximize the regional and holistic disaster response,” Marine Corps Reserve Major Richard J. Hossfeld asserts. Although the DSC model worked well during Hurricane Sandy, the system would most likely not be effective enough during a massive catastrophe involving multiple states, such as an earthquake or a flu pandemic. “The sobering reality is that during a large domestic complex catastrophe, the benefits that a DSC C2 can provide to a governor during normal catastrophes are rapidly overwhelmed,” he warns.
Sometimes when trying to prepare for the unexpected, those charged with responding don’t suffer from a lack of data; rather they are hampered by having too much, but without a way to make it form a bigger picture. Despite a multitude of intelligence-absorbing sensors at our nation’s ports and harbors, it has proven difficult to aggregate all of the information in a real-time manner—much to the dismay of personnel tasked with ensuring safety and security at those locations. But the implementation of the Coastal Surveillance System (CSS), one of many technological innovations that aim to change this, will connect numerous sensors by plugging them into a common system, says retired Navy Captain Edward H. Lundquist. “With CSS, the entire [vessel traffic services] network—as well as all of the other radars and sensors—can be integrated to provide a comprehensive fully integrated coastal surveillance and maritime situational awareness capability, allowing for safety, security, and efficiency.”
Even with all the advanced technology, the best surveillance tool is often still a vigilant set of eyes on the lookout for those up to no good. Coast Guard vessels, with their distinctive livery, are a familiar and reassuring presence as they provide a law-enforcement deterrent and response capability in our ports, on our rivers, and along our shores. They certainly stand out in a crowd—and that’s the problem. Patrols are too easy to hide from, with their highly visible orange boats, publicly known locations, and regular schedules. Such predictability hinders their effectiveness and the service’s ability to really see the maritime environment, according to Coast Guard Lieutenants Jeff Garvey and Nicolas Schellman. The authors believe the Coast Guard should take a page from land-based law enforcement and integrate a clandestine boat capability, thereby improving overall maritime awareness. These vessels would have no visible markings and would be operated by personnel in civilian clothes. “Adversaries know our tactics and are not going away,” they caution. “The only question is how we choose to respond.”