USCG Small Vessel Security Initiatives Revealed

Contributor:  Christopher Dauer
Posted:  03/16/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Robert Gauvin is the Technical Advisor, Office of Vessel Activities (CG-543(ta)) for the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.  He will be speaking at IDGA’s 10thAnnual Maritime Homeland Security Summit, to be held April 30-May 2, 2012 in Norfolk, Vir.

Mr. Gauvin is responsible for long-range projects of national and international concerns involving U.S. and foreign commercial vessel operations.  His current duties include assignment as a Special Project Officer to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on small vessel security; and Executive Director of Piracy Policy for the Prevention Policy Directorate at Coast Guard Headquarters. He champions marine safety and security program issues and coordinates strong liaisons through participation with industry groups, associations, the public, Congressional staffs, other federal agencies and international vessel administrations.

IDGA: You'll be discussing USCG Vessel Security initiatives at the Maritime Security Summit. Could you describe the DHS Small Vessel Security Strategy and Implementation Plan?

RG: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) formally approved its Small Vessel Security Strategy Implementation Plan. It is designed to manage risks associated with the potential exploitation of small vessels by terrorists in America’s maritime—its ports, shores and waterways. The Small Vessel Security Strategy Implementation Plan encompasses the program elements that, when combined and tailored to local security requirements, will best meet the objectives and goals of the Small Vessel Security Strategy without imposing excessive limits or costs on our maritime community. The Implementation Plan reports the results of the planning that has taken place with the involvement of stakeholders over the past few years. Most of the elements listed in the Plan are existing ongoing programs of DHS components. Some provide new capabilities. Working together they will provide both the required foundation and special capabilities for a sustainable and effective defense against terrorist use of small vessels to attack America.

By way of background, there is no specific imminent threat based on intelligence that drives the Small Vessel Security Strategy and the Small Vessel Security Implementation Plan. Rather, DHS developed them to prepare for the possible future use of small vessels by terrorists based on the fact that terrorists have in the recent past been inventive and deadly with the use of small vessels. They successfully attacked a U.S. Navy vessel using a small boat as a water-borne improvised explosive or “boat bomb.” They successfully attacked shoreline facilities and successfully transported explosives and armed men to kill civilians in cities using small vessels, including pirated vessels (Mumbai). With terrorists seeking ever more deadly weapons, including weapons of mass effect, it is prudent to prepare for possible attempts by terrorists to convey them directly to any of our shores and waterways using small vessels.

Small vessels (those recreational and commercial vessels displacing less that 300 gross tons) number in the millions in the extensive U.S. maritime domain that comprises our shores, inland waterways and proximate people, facilities and habitations. Most are unregulated (not subject to the safety and security requirements of commercial vessels). Many are not registered. Most operators are not certified for their use. Thus, it is very difficult to know who is operating them and their location at any given time. Moreover, small vessels enjoy our traditional and valued freedom of the seas. It is expected by small vessel stakeholders to sustain this tradition and not burden legitimate operators. Equally, it is essential to be better able to know how to locate and deal with such small vessel threats when there is good reason to do so.

DHS Small Vessel Strategy

There are a large variety of potential attack modes. The scale of the national maritime or many individual local maritime environments is enormous, and value of vulnerable targets in human, economic and symbolic terms is incalculable. Thus, there is no unique "threat model" on which to estimate a meritorious "total amount of risk" to manage, or from which to base unique notions of "solutions." This kind of very complex problem, and the patience and inventiveness of terrorists, suggest no “silver bullet” solutions to direct defensive action without diverting required operational attention. This is what necessitates the robust strategy based on a defense in depth of the DHS Small Vessel Security Implementation Plan.

DHS has consulted closely with private sector partners throughout the nation in one National and six Regional Small Vessel Security Summits since 2007 to shape the strategy and its implementation. The meetings hosted a dialog to discuss about planned programs and the concerns interests and ideas to help shape the Implementation Plan accordingly. The responsible DHS components (U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Administration, and Domestic Nuclear Detection Office), other federal, state and local agencies, and our international counterparts have worked together since 2007 to integrate efforts, share information and fill gaps to solidify our defense in depth.

The Small Vessel Security Implementation Plan outlines the program elements that DHS has been working on over the past few years to combine into a sustainable “defense in depth” and to manage risk for the long term in the large, complex and diverse maritime environment. Many of the elements in the Implementation Plan build on the well-developed and proven capabilities that facilitate safety and commerce. Others meet specialized security requirements, and a few are promising areas of advanced research. Together, they encompass a broad array of defenses, not the least of which is the awareness and local knowledge of small vessel stakeholders across our ports and coastal waterways.

The DHS Small Vessel Security Implementation Plan is a “roadmap” that can be put to a variety of uses. It categorizes existing programs in terms of the goals and objectives of the Small Vessel Security Strategy, expectations of program performance and the status of the included programs. It maps how existing programs will work together, and what research and development will be conducted to refine or create needed capabilities. It is not a “requirements,” ‘budget” or “performance evaluation” document, but a guide to their preparation. As a roadmap, it is a mechanism to review the strategy as a whole. Importantly, it is a living document, readily modifiable to meet new needs as knowledge about its workings—or about the threat—evolves.

There are in fact two versions with specific purposes. One is for the government’s role to use in its continuous process of setting requirements, creating and measuring performance expectations and planning for acquisitions and budgets. This version contains sensitive security information, and is not for general public distribution. The other is Public Report on the Implementation Plan. It excludes specific security sensitive program planning details. Otherwise it lays out all of the elements and the reasoning behind them in a way that typical stakeholders will take the time to examine.

Many components of DHS have worked closely during the planning effort to integrate existing operations and programs, share information, or test important capabilities. This has included the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. They have worked with other federal, state and local agencies and with the small vessel community in these efforts. 

Some of the activity has been devoted to the important area of increasing maritime domain awareness. The Small Vessel Security Implementation Plan advances America’s Waterway Watch to increase public awareness and provide for suspicious activity reporting. It extends successful regional programs to the entire nation, modeled on Puget Sound’s, Citizen’s Action Network and a well tested pilot project that increase risk-based maritime patrols and expand USCG and partner component presence – which were combined and further  tested with Canadian counterpart authorities during the 2010 Olympics. The Customs and Border Patrol has improved facilities for notice of arrival filings and has successfully tested a user friendly web based system for filing of float plans, and they will be extended nationally. DHS components and its partners in other agencies have moved to share assets and information to advance maritime domain awareness and will do more of that to manage risk as effectively and efficiently as possible. In the past two years, DHS’s Defense Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) has pilot tested radiological/nuclear detection capabilities in several locations. It has trained the operational partners, including local law enforcement, to successfully use detection technology to mitigate potential attacks, and assessed how to advance operational performance. Using data from these studies DNDO is assessing alternatives to plan for sustainable nationwide deployment even while studying emerging technology capabilities.

The DHS Small Vessel Security Implementation Plan describes a set of elements designed to improved situational awareness and information sharing. They include deploying vessel tracking systems more broadly, using new communications and information processing technology to vastly expand the ability for all forces to interact in a “virtual” operations center architecture. The Science and Technology Directorate has worked steadily to shape next generation vessel identification and tracking capabilities. Plans are underway to further test safe, unobtrusive and cost-effective innovations in real word setting in pilot projects.

 IDGA: What are the action elements of the Implementation Plan to reduce risk for small vessel threats?

RG: There are hundreds of actions that support the goals and objectives of the SVS Strategy, some being sensitive security information. Examples of systems being actively used are: 


  • America’s Waterways Watch  (AWW)
  • Interagency Operation Centers (IOCs)
  • Vessel Identification Systems (VIS)
  • Area Maritime Security Committee and Plans (AMSC & AMSP) which includes risk assessments
  • Small Vessel Reporting System (use to be the Public Boating Reporting System to report arrivals from overseas)
  • Advanced Notice of Arrivals and Automatic Identification System (ANOA-AIS)
  • Intelligence information collection and dissemination on SVS
  • Maritime Security Risk Analysis Model (MSRAM) to identify port-specific risk and assign scarce multiagency resources to the highest-risk threats.


IDGA: How can education, coordination and communication partnerships assist in addressing small vessel concerns?

RG: The public is our largest stakeholder in the concern of small vessels being used by terrorist as a weapon against the United States.  Statistics currently show approximately +12M registered pleasure boats in the U.S. (not including human powered and alike), and approximately +82M American adults participating in pleasure boating during 2011.  Include the commercial small vessel (approximately 300K) working in U.S. waters and ports, this greatly expands the eyes and ears on the water to see, understand and communicate threat to local authorities.  Also seeing that just the Coast Guard performed over 300,000 small vessel boardings last year, where State and local law enforcement boarded over 1.3 million boats in their jurisdictions or territories.  Resources and capabilities are extended greatly to reduce threat where the limited but full strength of available resources are coordinated against a specific threat.

Through risk assessment and planning (AMSC); having a common operating picture between  the stakeholders, regulators and responders; allows a hardening of the port where everyone related to operations on the waterfront recognize and respond the threat, instead of it walking right by them to the target within the port. As such: education of the threat allows communications to determine and locate the threat; that allows coordination to understand and respond to the threat; that allows the best use of all resources to reduce the threat.

Robert Gauvin, Technical Advisor, Office of Vessel Activities (CG-543(ta)) for the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, will be speaking at IDGA’s 10thAnnual Maritime Homeland Security Summit, to be held April 30-May 2, 2012 in Norfolk, Vir.  For more information on the event, visit, or call 1-800-882-8684. For defense and government news and information, visit

Christopher Dauer Contributor:   Christopher Dauer

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