Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

Port Incident Recovery Begins with Successful Planning

GAO report finds that the U.S. Coast Guard has accomplished a lot of advance planning and coordination.

Ports, waterways and vessels are part of an economic system handling more than $700 billion in merchandise annually, and a major disruption to this system could have a widespread impact on the U.S. economy, global shipping and international trade.

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) took an in-depth look at seaport preparedness by the U.S. Coast Guard, and found that the agency had accomplished a lot of advance planning, something of interest to other emergency management professionals.

The Coast Guard is responsible for facilitating the recovery of this marine transportation system following a significant transportation disruption, such as a security incident or natural disaster, and working with maritime stakeholders for the expeditious resumption of trade. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard conducted efforts to identify additional recovery-related elements and incorporate them within its port planning process to help ensure a consistent approach to port recovery and trade resumption.

In addition, the SAFE Port Act of 2006 required that port plans include a salvage response plan to ensure that waterways are cleared and port commerce is re-established as efficiently and quickly as possible following a transportation security incident or other disruption. Further, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 called for port plans to establish response and recovery protocols to prepare for, respond to, mitigate and recover from an incident.

Plans and Committees

It’s no surprise to emergency management professionals that successful preparedness for port recovery begins with plans and committees to coordinate a response well before an incident occurs. In the maritime and port environment, Area Maritime Security (AMS) plans are developed by the Coast Guard with input from applicable governmental and private entities and serve as the primary means to identify and coordinate prevention, protection, response and recovery activities.

In response to legislative requirements, the Coast Guard, in partnership with maritime stakeholders, has prepared AMS plans for 43 ports and port areas. All AMS plans are reviewed and approved through the Coast Guard chain of command, but individual plans can vary to address the unique characteristics of each port.

In addition to the AMS plans, Coast Guard leadership in each port is responsible for establishing and maintaining an Area Maritime Security Committee that provides advice on the development of the AMS plans. These committees are also tasked with planning and coordinating security procedures and providing subject-matter expertise to the Coast Guard. The committees meet at least annually or when requested by a majority of members.

Committee membership includes a number of different port stakeholders and government entities involved in the port such as federal agencies (Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Customs and Border Protection), state and local agencies (law enforcement, transportation and environmental), as well as private-sector companies (vessel agents, terminal operators and marine exchanges).

Plans Meet Requirements

The GAO reviewed AMS plans in all seven high risk ports (what FEMA defines as “level one” ports) and found that each had incorporated key recovery and salvage response planning components as required by legislation and Coast Guard guidance. Although some variation exists regarding the level of detail provided and the inclusion of additional recovery-related appendices, each of the seven plans identified key recovery components and applicable operational processes.

These components include: procedures for establishing a Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit to work with stakeholders and provide guidance to Incident Command; procedures for gathering and updating essential elements of information to provide status updates on key port assets and operations; identification of general recovery priorities to help guide decision-making; and a salvage response plan to provide a coordination framework for salvage activities and identify available equipment and other resources that may be necessary to support the clearing of waterways to enable resumption of port commerce.

Although the GAO’s review of AMS plans was limited to the seven high-risk port areas, the Coast Guard provided documentation indicating that all 43 AMS plans have been approved as meeting all applicable content requirements, including recovery and salvage response elements.

The AMS plans discuss the need to gather essential information for recovery and restoration activities. Related Coast Guard guidance highlights the importance of gathering and disseminating such information and including quantitative and objective information used by the Coast Guard to complete status reports during an incident.

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