Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Citizen’s Action Network—how the U.S. Coast Guard put the “home” in homeland security

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by LCDR Michael Billeaudeaux, U.S. Coast Guard District 13; and Mr. Ryan F. Owens, Chief, Industry Outreach Branch, U.S. Coast Guard Domestic Ports Division.

Among other missions, the U.S. Coast Guard is charged with protecting the nation’s shoreline, including ports, cities, and critical infrastructure. As a relatively small agency (40,000 active duty personnel) with a highly complex and prodigious mission, the Coast Guard has been taking an innovative approach to organize a grassroots workforce: the Citizen’s Action Network (CAN).

CAN members include waterfront businesses, tribal members, and everyday Americans who are available to report real-time information along thousands of miles of sparsely populated seashores, rugged rivers, or other complex waterways. The Coast Guard communicates directly to Citizen’s Action Network members to get assistance in identifying (or ruling out) the sources of marine flares, gathering on-scene weather, establishing lookouts, or corroborating other information. The Coast Guard also routinely sends electronic messages to the members, keeping them informed and alert throughout emergent and long-term situations.

A Common Operating Picture
Citizen’s Action Network members’ home locations are maintained in a centralized and secure database where Coast Guard dispatchers may view them as part of a common operating picture. CAN locations and membership information may be viewed and layered on top of automatic information system or vessel traffic service-provided vectors, side by side with other law enforcement assets or alongside intended maritime search areas. By leveraging CAN’s on-scene information, field missions are run more efficiently and effectively.

An Aid to Counterterrorism
Although CAN is designed as a government-to-citizen support and information network, it is a critical component that provides vigilance within the maritime domain. For example, members have reported the presence of illegal migrants, drug labs, suspicious vessel movements, and unusual maritime activities.

Since 2005 the Coast Guard has been banking on public vigilance in the maritime domain through the America’s Waterway Watch program (toll-free number 877-24-WATCH). Citizen’s Action Network members are also armed with this reporting number and have used it to report in some significant cases.

The Future of the Citizen’s Action Network
As a networked community, CAN represents a new homeland security working model—a best practice for building a grassroots culture of prevention that capitalizes on broad and inspired citizenry. As these citizens are by far more familiar with their waterfront communities, they are often in the best position to help create effective solutions to unique problems.

In 2008 the Coast Guard Domestic Ports and Waterways Branch teamed up with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service to develop a national implementation plan that will formalize the CAN concept within a more robust America’s Waterway Watch concept. The idea is to maximize the power of citizens, businesses, and tribal members among a variety of federal, state, and local agencies covering many domains, including borders, airports, rail systems, and highways.

Photo Caption:
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary members who are also Citizen’s Action Network members receive binoculars, night vision scopes, and marine-band radios. CAN members are encouraged to join the auxiliary to receive added benefits, which include extra training, more direct engagement with the USCG, and the ability to receive observation and communication tools such as those seen here.

For more information:
Full article and “Interagency Success Stories” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/spring2009.

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil