Thursday, November 3, 2011

WSF’s Security Program Delivers Peace of Mind for its 22 Million Riders

By Greg Jose, with contributions from staff of Washington State Ferries Security Department, US Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound and Art Anderson Associates

The events of 9/11 brought into clear focus the need to strengthen the United States’ critical infrastructure against risks associated with potential terrorist attacks. Transportation systems, including ferries, were recognized to be at heightened risk due their public prominence and dense accommodation of large numbers of people.

New laws were created to address this concern, including the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. Referred to as MTSA, the law requires vessel and port facility operators to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security plans. In 2003, the US Coast Guard estimated the private sector costs of compliance to be $6.8B over ten years. To help defray this cost, the Government implemented the Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), which has since provided more than $2B in competitive grants to port and transportation facility operators.

Washington State Ferries (WSF), as the largest passenger and automobile ferry system in the United States, has been a recipient of PSGP funding and has engaged in a systematic and continual effort to improve vessel and terminal security. Art Anderson Associates (AAA), an engineering firm that specializes in services for ferry transportation systems, has served as WSF’s lead consultant providing critical implementation engineering support since 2003.

WSF now boasts a security program that includes, among other things, a fully integrated access control and video monitoring system. WSF’s successful buildout of its vessel and terminal security systems and procedures provides innovative and reliable security assurance to its daily operations, which translates to peace of mind for its 22 million annual passengers. But the path to success hasn’t been without its challenges, and WSF and AAA’s experience can provide lessons for other operators with similar security needs.

The Learning Curve
The relatively quick action by the Government to implement new requirements presented a steep learning curve for all involved. Following the 9/11 attacks, it was generally accepted that the next one was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

A rapid rollout of new security measures and systems was needed, but nobody was really sure how they would take shape. In Puget Sound, the US Coast Guard Captain of the Port took charge, setting up a port security-related committee to address these challenges (the Puget Sound Area Maritime Security Committee), including a subcommittee related to the ferry system. The committee brought together all the crucial agencies involved in security, including the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Washington State Patrol, US Customs and Border Protection and others to develop coordinated strategies and plans.

“Everybody came together to figure things out,” said John Dwyer, Chief of the Inspection Division at US Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. Mr. Dwyer is the current head of the Vessel Security and Washington State Ferries Sub-Committees within the Puget Sound Area Maritime Security Committee. “A lot of stuff is déjà-vu, back-to-the-future,” said Mr. Dwyer, referring to strategies like small boat patrols and TWIC card implementation, which were similar to security programs implemented in World War II and the Korean War.

As MTSA and its requirements were put into place, the committee worked together to develop WSF’s coordinated security plan. Helmut Steele, WSF’s Company Security Officer, and a former Washington State Patrol Captain, advised a key strategy in WSF’s Alternative Security plan, which was to improve WSF’s ability to control access to and monitor and record sensitive areas at terminals and aboard vessels. Such a strategy would require the design and installation of video cameras, card access systems, alarm systems, improved lighting, physical security configuration changes and IT integration in central monitoring locations. WSF applied for, and was successful in being awarded the first of its Port Security Grants in 2003.

Grant funding requirements dictated that an outside consultant be engaged to support implementation of the new security systems. Art Anderson Associates was selected as the security consultant because of its customer service strategy for integrating naval architecture and marine engineering services with architecture and engineering for ferry terminals and support facilities, and its successful history serving WSF on previous contracts.

Facing Challenges
It was clear from the outset of the program that daunting challenges faced the team. There were questions as to what specifically needed to be monitored and controlled, whether to use a single vendor or multiple vendors, how to deal with the logistics of managing equipment information, and how to develop the best and most reliable strategies for mobile system connectivity using technologies that had not yet evolved to the current state of the art.

The team quickly recognized that successful knowledge management would be a key to the program’s success moving forward. With thousands of pieces of equipment spread throughout the WSF system, configuration data and documentation were determined to be critical attributes for success. An electronic catalog system was developed for user-friendly access to the equipment data. As equipment was added or replaced, the appropriate data was filed and cataloged immediately. Because of the pace of the project, daily updates were sometimes necessary to stay on top of things.

Addressing the mobile connectivity problem and the volume of monitoring information was another challenge. Spread across a large geographic area, with routes that ply the winding fjords of Puget Sound, building a system that ensures a reliable data connection with the reporting locations was a struggle, but not one that was insurmountable. The project team pioneered solutions that overcame the difficulties of limited existing infrastructure.

Adapting to Change
Among many challenges, the biggest of all was reconciling the fast-changing world of IT and computer systems with the relatively glacial pace of change in the maritime industry. “It was like trying to hit a moving target,” said Art Anderson Associates electrical designer Mike Tasso, a key member of the design team. “The technology was growing by leaps and bounds, and once a piece of equipment was selected, designed and installed, there was already a new one on the market that was better.”

In a typical ship design/repair project, it can take anywhere from six months to a year from development of a design drawing to final installation. For this project, the typical time frame needed to be accelerated. Even then, it was common that as a design package neared completion, the equipment would change right up until the moment it was time to purchase and install the item.

In addition, the “hardened” installations could only occur while vessels were in the shipyard. Therefore the team had to find a way to set up a design and production schedule that would match completion of design with vessel availabilities in a timely manner, lest the design be obsolete by the time the vessel could enter the yard.

Then there was the “domino effect” of changes. It was frequently the case that a new piece of equipment would require additional unforeseen changes to ensure it could function. For instance, new video equipment needed new servers, which needed additional power supplies, which generated additional heat in the server cabinet, requiring new cooling equipment. Early on, many of these lessons were addressed on the fly, but as the security program became more refined, these cascade effects were anticipated early and planned for.

Compounding the complexity was the fact that technology and equipment weren’t the only things changing – the security environment was too. For instance, at one point in the project, new requirements were introduced that necessitated expanded video surveillance coverage at ferry terminals and aboard vessels. This required WSF to determine the specific locations for the new equipment, and modify existing server racks and data systems to accommodate it.

Communication is Key
Early on in the project, WSF made the decision to utilize multiple vendors for the security systems, rather than a single source. While this freed the team to select the best piece of equipment for a specific application, it also raised the bar of knowledge and communication needed to design a well-functioning, integrated system with the best technology.

Fortunately, everyone seemed to get along well. “This area is good at collaboration,” said Mr. Dwyer. In addition to the bi-monthly meetings of the WSF Subcommittee Mr. Dwyer chairs, weekly project meetings between AAA, WSF and vendor personnel were important factors in keeping everyone on the same page. “WSF’s security team led a workgroup with a real diversity of expertise and opinion, which allowed ideas to be generated and good solutions to bubble to the top. Having all the vendors in one room also helped in expediting the often-difficult task of getting all the different pieces of equipment to talk to each another in an integrated way.

Looking Ahead
More than eight years have passed since WSF began the program. Since that time, the system has continued to be constructed to cover all 20 terminals and all 22 vessels in the fleet. The hundreds of data collection points (cameras, access systems, alarms) have been integrated into a single network with confidential central monitoring. As a result, WSF has significantly increased the safety and security of its vessels and facilities, and accordingly, the safety of the general public.

While system design and construction has fulfilled WSF Alternative Security Plan requirements since the initial build-out of the system, there is an ongoing technical and logistical challenge to maintain the systems and update the technology to keep pace with a rapidly evolving industry. But even more importantly, there is an ongoing challenge to continue to diminish the risk of a threat that might not be intercepted.

Both AAA and WSF have learned many hard-won lessons though the course of this challenging program. The chief lessons focus on the importance of strong relationships, communication and an acceptance of change.

WSF has also acknowledged the importance of technical capability. Mr. Steele emphasized this point: “The marine environment is much more challenging,” he said. “One key to success is finding outside companies with vast knowledge in marine operations, such as Art Anderson Associates and the security system vendors.”

With maritime engineering experience that spans from shoreside facilities to operating vessels, including working on complex systems for WSF, the nation’s largest ferry operator, vessel operators rely on companies such as Art Anderson Associates to provide expert engineering assistance.

Greg Jose is the Manager of Corporate Image and Opportunity at Art Anderson Associates. He leads business development and project management for ferry transportation planning projects and is responsible for the firm’s overall marketing campaigns and programs.