What’s In That Container?

Container-ship

Ever since 9-11, there has been acute concern about preventing “the next” big attack on our nation.

 

Will it be a suitcase bomb, anthrax in the mail, an attack on our mass transit systems, or perhaps a nuclear device smuggled into one of our ports–all very frightening scenarios!

 

The last one though has been of particular fascination and concern given the amount of commerce that passes through our ports–more than 95% of our international trade–and hence the damage that could be done to our economy should these ports be hit as well as the challenges in being able adequately screen all the containers coming through–a massive undertaking.

 

Wired Magazine (November 2011) did a feature story on this topic in an article called “Mystery Box.”

 

The article highlights the unbelievable damage that could occur if a dirty bomb (“a radiological dispersion device”) were to get through in one of the millions of 20 foot long by 8 foot wide shipping containers out there–aside from the risk to lives, “it would result in a major national freak-out…cause billions and billions of dollars in economic damage…dirty bombs are weapons of mass disruption.”

 

While 99% of shipping containers are scanned when they arrive in the U.S., DHS is supposedly challenged in implementing a bill requiring scanning every container before they enter the U.S.–“some 66,000 [containers] a day.

 

Instead “100 percent screening” is being pursued where, shipping information is checked before arrival–including vessel, people, and cargo, origination, and destination–and when an anomaly or cause for concern is detected–if there is a U.S. Customs Officer at the origination port, they can check it there already.

 

However, there are still at least four major issues affecting our port security today:

 

1) Most containers are still checked only once they actually get onshore.
2) The scanners are too easily foiled–“most detectors are set to ignore low radiation levels. [And] basic shielding would be enough to mask all but the strongest sources.”
3) Thoroughly scanning every container is consideredtoo time-consuming using current processes and technology and therefore, would adversely affect our commerce and economy.
4) Around the world “Customs tends not focus on containers being transshipped [those moving from ship to ship]. Their attitude is ‘It’s not my container, it’s just passing through.'”

 

This is a perfect example of technology desperately needed to address a very serious issue.

 

Certainly, we cannot bring our economy to a standstilleither by unnecessarily checking every “widget” that comes over or by risking the catastrophic effects of a WMD attack.

 

So for now, we are in a catch-22, darned if we do check everything as well as if we don’t.

 

This is where continued research and development, technological innovation, and business process reengineering must be directed–to secure our country sooner than later.

 

The risks are being managed best we can for now, but we must overcome the current obstacles to screening bybreaking the paradigm that we are boxed into today.

 

(Source Photo: here)

>Architecting a Balance

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As a child, we learn from our parents, teachers, and mentors, that too much of even a good thing is bad for you: be it sweets or hard work—in fact, just about anything taken to an extreme is deadly.

The lesson of finding a balance in life has been captured in religious and philosophical teaching about practicing a middle of the road or golden path approach in life. In architecture as well, developing a strong viable architecture is also premised on balancing conflicting demands and finding that delicate balance.

In simple terms, architecting a balance shows up in having to manage scarce IT resources. So that while on one hand, we may like to have the latest and greatest technologies to give us every edge, we have to balance to promise of those technologies with the cost involved. We do not have endlessly deep pockets.

Similarly, while on one hand, we it would be wonderfully customer-centric to provide each and every one of our customers the customized business processes and technology solution that they want, prefer, or are simply most familiar or comfortable using; on the other hand, we must balance the innovativeness and agility that our customers demand with the need to standard around enterprise and common solutions, which provide a more structured, deliberate, and lower cost base on which to service the enterprise.

As we know from childhood, it is not easy to find the “right” balance. That next bite of cotton candy tastes great going down and we won’t feel the stomachache till later that evening.

National Defense Magazine, November 2007, has an article about architecting a balance in the Coast Guard mission of maritime security, titled “License to Boat?”

The threats from small boating vessels are threefold:

  1. Smuggling—“the use of a boat to smuggle people or weapons of mass destruction into the United States.”
  2. Waterborne improvised explosive device (IED)—“that a boat will be used as a weapon itself by a suicide bomber” (such as the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole). “Imagine…the consequences of waterborne IEDs against passenger ships, against tankers, against port facilities themselves.”
  3. Weapons’ platform—“boat used as a platform to launch a weapon, such as a short-range ballistic missle,” says Dana Goward, Director of MDA, at the U.S. Coast Guard

Despite these serious security threats, the article discusses the challenges of architecting a balance between increased security/maritime domain awareness (such as through requiring of boating licenses and/or automated identification systems for the more than 17 million small vessels that operate in U.S. waterways) and the desire to “ensure that future regulations don’t compromise boaters’ way of life or disrupt the flow of commerce.”

Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so if security options don’t include boating licenses, Goward states, “the answer could be something as simple as a combination of rules, extra patrols, and increased monitoring on the waterways.”

When it comes to balancing competing interests, nothing is really simple. National Defense Magazine reports that in terms of maritime security, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on “Maritime Security: Potential Terrorist Attacks and Protection Priorities,” states that “terrorists are more likely to use small boats for waterborne attacks because they ‘satisfy the overwhelming terrorist requirements for simplicity,” Now, we need to continue architecting solutions that meet these security threats head-on, but at the same time preserve freedoms, our way of life, and support international commerce.

Creating balance between alternate views/needs is one of the biggest challenges, but also has the potential for some of the greatest benefits, because by striking a balance, we have the potential to satisfy the greatest number of stakeholders and optimize our ability to meet conflicting requirements. It’s easy to (as the Nike slogan says) “just do it,” but it’s hard to do it and not mess up something else in the process. For example, it’s relatively easy to do security, if you aren’t concerned with the affect on quality of life, commerce, and so on. However, this is not realistic.

Like all things in life, finding the right balance is an art and a science, and requires ongoing course corrections.

>Port Security and Enterprise Architecture

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[This Blog is based entirely on public information and represents my views alone and not those of the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, or other Federal agency.]

Maritime and port security is critical to this nation, particularly after the events we witnessed on 9-11.

The largest border for the United States is our coastline at 95,000 miles. Moreover, there are approximately 361 major ports (according to the Council on Foreign Relations). Securing the maritime border is the purview of the United States Coat Guard (USCG), for which I have the privilege to work, and securing the ports is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Justice, and state and local law enforcement.

National Defense Magazine, April 2008, reports that “under project SeaHawk [a pilot project], port security officials during the past three years have developed the software, sensors, and communications infrastructure needed to maintain a 24/7 watch on this regional port [Charleston, S.C.]—the sixth largest in the United States.”

From an enterprise architecture perspective, the keys to the success of SeaHawk are business process integration, information sharing and collaboration.

Before SeaHawk it wasn’t uncommon for the different agencies with jurisdiction in the port to duplicate their efforts, said CAPT Michael McAllistar, Coast Guard sector commander and Charleston’s captain of the port. “’My boarding teams would run into Custom’s boarding teams at the bow of a ship.’ Today, boardings are carried out in a more efficient manner that allows the different agencies to make better use of their limited resources.”

The Safe Port Act of 2006 calls “for the creation of similar operational centers at ‘high priority’ ports by October 2009.”

National Defense Magazine identifies the many components comprising the successful architecture for port security:

  • Advance Notice of Arrival— provides the captain of the port the information of ships due to arrive, their cargo, and their people 96 hours in advance.
  • Automated Identification System (AIS)—“is a beacon that transmits the ship’s identity and bearing.”
  • Radar—tracks the ship as it approaches.
  • Law Enforcement Dossier—law enforcementUSCG, CBP, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—compile a dossier that identifies whether any of the crew have criminal records, “whether a ship recently changed ownership or flags, and whether it has been caught with contraband before.”
  • Risk Analysis—vessels of interest are color coded and tracked and decisions are made whether to conduct a boarding by USCG and/or CBP or “dispatch CBP canine units that specialize in either drugs or explosive detection.”
  • Cameras—“as the ship approaches the port, it is captured by long- and medium-range electro-optical and infrared cameras.”
  • Hawkeye System—“combines the data from cameras, radar, and AIS into a common operating picture [COP]. If the ship suddenly veers off course that would raise a red flag.
  • Wall of Knowledge–“like most modern operation centers, all these cameras, sensors, and tracking systems are displayed on a series of monitors spread across a wall”.

According to the article, one of the architectural challenges is standardizing the technologies and business processes for the various ports, given the challenge that “each port is different” in terms of geography and law enforcement risks (for example, some ports, like Charleston, emphasize port security while others, like in Florida, have a higher risk factors for drugs and illegal immigration). SeaHawk has been successful in this standardization with an 85% solution—“the information software portal has already been adopted by the Coast Guard’s captains of the ports.”

In the future, we can all look forward to seeing SeaHawk rolled out to other major ports, enhancing the security of our nation.