Mission Detection: The Underwater Port Security System
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Amy Thomas
U. S. Coast Guard
March 14, 2005
Seattle - The Coast Guard's newest wave of anti-terrorism tool is being unleashed on ports nationwide. The Underwater Port Security System (UPSS) can detect, track, classify and interdict intruders, and allows for the inspection of hulls and pier structures or anything that is underwater without an invitation. It adds an additional layer of protection to our ports, and is available in the U.S. anywhere and anytime. It can hear, see and talk underwater and it's compact enough fit in a large suitcase.
"Terrorists are always looking for ways to attack elements of our infrastructure critical to our economy and our freedom," said Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander, Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson during a recent demonstration of the system in San Pedro, Calif. "Our ports are absolutely vital to this nation, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve our ability to protect them."
The UPSS is composed of two elements: the Underwater Inspection System and the Integrated Anti-Swimmer System.
The Underwater Inspection System uses divers who are trained to inspect ships' hulls, piers, as well as, to conduct ocean-bottom searches. It also includes Remotely Operated Vehicles that can be deployed underwater when it may be too dangerous to put a diver in the water.
"The Coast Guard has been lacking in this area for awhile," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jachob Smith, an electronics technician assigned to the Maritime Safety and Security Team in San Pedro. "Before we had this system, it was all about crews standing lookout watches. We were really limited as to what we could see. Now, we can see very well in even cloudy or murky water."
The second element of the UPSS is the Integrated Anti-Swimmer system. The IAS is comprised of a commercially available sound head that detects and tracks potential underwater threats, and a processor that classifies underwater contacts and alerts system operators to their presence. IAS is capable of guiding Coast Guard security forces to the threat, and provides high frequency sonar images to positively identify the contact as a swimmer or diver, and not marine life or some other object. Smith said MSST divers have been sent underwater to try to "trick" the system and to test its detection parameters, and so far the system has proved infallible.
"We've had the divers go at the system at all speeds and from all angles, and it detects them every time," he said.
The system, which will be housed with certain Maritime Safety and Security Teams throughout the country, is portable and is available for operational commanders for specific events either as a deterrent or in response to intelligence reports.
When the system is deployed, the Coast Guard will notify the public that specific security zones have been put in place. Should someone innocently enter a security zone, the Coast Guard will make reasonable efforts to communicate to them using underwater loud hailers before using any additional forcible measures.
Smith, who's been working with the system for about a year and half, said he underwent extensive training to become well versed in the system's operations. He said knowledge of wireless networking technology, as well as, general computer knowledge is necessary to become proficient at the system.
"There is a significant learning curve, but it is doable," Smith said. "It just takes time."
Concern over the effect this system might have on marine life led the Coast Guard to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Preliminary data indicates that the system will not have a significant impact on any marine species, and the Coast Guard will continue to work with NMFS to ensure the environmental impact is as minimal as possible.
Many agree that this system is the next generation in port security and gives the Coast Guard the upper hand in detecting a threat.
"This system adds a layer of security to our ports by providing specific protection from underwater threats, and it reduces the chances of success for a possible means of attack," said Johnson. "It is by no means a guarantee, but it is an important step forward."
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