Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Maritime Resilience in the Pacific Northwest

by Kathleen Gleaves

When President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the Beyond the Border Initiative in February of 2011, it established a cross-border partnership focused on perimeter security and regional economics. Their actions directed the two leadership agencies, Transport Canada and the US Coast Guard, to oversee the development of a Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan.

The new Initiative pushed the international collaboration effort beyond the immediate border crossing areas well into the Puget Sound and beyond. While increasing security for both countries with improved information sharing, the project also sought to facilitate the legitimate flow of people, goods and services during a disaster to help with regional response and economic recovery in the maritime environment.

There is a lot at stake. The estimated regional economic impact of imports and exports through the ports in Washington and British Columbia is more than $200 billion annually. “The marine industry is the lifeblood of our regional economy,” stated Matt Morrison, Executive Director of the Pacific North West Economic Region (PNWER). A sustained disruption to the flow of goods could have a devastating impact on the local economy.

Once the ink dried and top leaders returned to Washington DC and Ottawa, those charged with carrying out the mission were perplexed as to how to go about achieving those lofty ideals. Officials in British Columbia and Washington State were tasked with building the initial plan, with the understanding that plans and guidelines built here would transfer to the Great Lakes area and eventually to the Atlantic Region where similar Action Plans would improve security and economic recovery across the continent should either country be impacted by a significant natural disaster or terrorist attack. The practices and standards built by this initiative may influence future IMO standards for maritime resilience.

All parties agreed that bringing the Port facilities back into service in a devastated area as quickly as possible would support not only local response efforts, but assist with economic recovery by bringing jobs back to the region. Another key acknowledgement was that in order to help each other, a communications plan and protocols for sharing information was needed. Sharing information does not come easily for military operations, or private companies in intensely competitive businesses.

It was a big job with a short time frame. Transport Canada’s team, led by consultant Pat Docking, former Transport Canada Maritime Commerce Resumption Strategy Coordinator, started the process with a series of work meetings in Vancouver. Her team built a document aimed at providing Guidelines for Communications and Information-Sharing between the two countries – the foundation on which all response and recovery efforts would be built.

In the meantime on the US side, the Coast Guard had contracted with PNWER, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, to lead the American side of the effort and collaborate with the Canadian Stakeholders. Docking believes that private industry “…working alongside government, helped make history as they set aside competitive and territorial differences to help craft a set of important draft guidelines and other key documents that will enable cross-border communication, information sharing and expedited recovery.”

The PNWER organization was ideally situated to coordinate the regional effort. As their website states, “The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) is a statutory, public/private partnership composed of legislators, governments, and businesses in the Northwest states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington and the Western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon Territory.” The agency is well known regionally for their work on collaborative efforts between public and private sectors in economic development and resilience.

A workshop was scheduled to validate and streamline the suggestions in the Guidelines into a workable action plan. The process was to culminate in a large, bi-national exercise that included stakeholders from the public and private sectors testing the action plan.

A bi-national workshop led by PNWER’s COO, Brandon Hardenbrook, was held at the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle in August. The event attracted 114 participants including representatives from most large regional ports; Edward Dahlgren from Nanaimo, Neil Clement from Bellingham and Cindy Jeromin from Metro Vancouver, as well as representatives from Prince Rupert, Everett, Tacoma and Seattle. Multiple agencies from local, state, provincial, and federal government branches joined the process. Participants represented a broad spectrum of maritime entities including transportation, manufacturing, large importers, tug and barge companies, and shipping companies. Business sector participants as diverse as Holland America and Boeing, Starbucks and AT&T, Cloud SafetyNet and the Lummi Indian Nation also signed onto the project.

The workshop included a panel discussion led by Eric Holdeman, Port of Tacoma. Discussions focused on giving private sector businesses a forum for presenting their concerns about disaster-related maritime economic recovery to the public and military agencies charged with facilitating that recovery.

A lively discussion revealed a common view that the intensely interdependent nature of the maritime economy required a strong collaborative effort. Joe Huden, consultant to PNWER and workshop facilitator with more than 40 years experience in military operations and planning, emergency preparedness and FEMA disaster response, expressed it well, “Maritime commerce has more moving parts than an expensive watch.”

The one thing all participants agreed on was that the region was not prepared to deal effectively with devastation on the level of that experienced in Haiti or Japan after earthquakes in those countries.

Documented outcomes from the workshop stressed three critical areas needing improvement; a way to share accurate and timely information about the scope of the disruption; a better understanding by government officials regarding what business and industry needs in order to recover; and how to share resources across borders without unnecessary burdens. One key finding during the exercise series was that even if entities in both countries were willing to share resources including people, equipment, berth space, and ships, International regulations and bureaucratic red tape conspired to restrict those good intentions. All agreed that if the final plans could gain improvements in these three areas, it would greatly increase the region’s capacity for economic recovery following a disaster.

PNWER’s staff took the findings from the workshop and developed a tabletop exercise that was held in October in Everett and attended by more than 100 participants including representatives from two large refineries, Shell and Tesoro, and Consul Generals from both the US and Canadian Consulates. Tony Gutenberg from Terminal Systems, Inc. (TSI) was a consistent supporter providing the critical shipping terminal perspective. Outcomes from the exercise confirmed the direction set by the US and Canadian working groups. Participants also supported the idea of including the Communications and Information Sharing protocols as an official Annex to the Pacific Northwest Emergency Management Arrangement (PNEMA), an existing mutual assistance document focused on regional collaboration. Regional stakeholders would be able to declare their support for the protocols by signing the PNEMA document.
Additionally, the After-Action Conference set in motion plans to seek support and funding for on-going work on this important initiative, develop a Task Force to implement the continuing work, and designate a lead entity or agency to monitor and encourage progress. While more work is needed to implement the processes outlined in the Plan, Dr. Allan Bartley, Director, Transport Canada’s Marine Security Policy, stated, “…. enhancing the capacity for recovery in our region is a goal worthy of the time, effort and resources expended by the participants.”

USCG District 13, spokesperson, Clifford Scott Bates says, “The ability to sustain interest and priority both locally and nationally [is] essential for ensuring that our connected MTS [Marine Transportation System] is best enabled to recover quickly from and remain resilient against future disasters.”

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the East Coast, earthquakes in Japan, Haiti, New Zealand, and Chile point to the value of establishing protocols for rendering assistance to impacted neighbors long before a crisis tests local resilience in the face of disaster – our $200 billion dollar economy depends on it.
Kathleen Gleaves has 12 years of experience in aviation and maritime security and emergency management, and owns and operates an emergency management firm in Seattle specializing in the maritime industry.