Thursday, July 29, 2010

Multi-Agency Search Yields Results

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by PA3 Seth Johnson, U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment New York.

As the rust-colored doors swing open, there is a sharp chemical smell, and dozens of white metal barrels become visible in the cargo container as sunlight spills in. A hazardous materials investigator in the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in West Trenton, N.J., places his gloved hands on a barrel and peers inside. He begins meticulously looking over each of the barrels for spillage and damage in a container big enough to double as a small garage.

He is also looking for safety deficiencies. Mainly what he sees are a lot of problems with placards not being there or filled out properly. For example, one carrying adhesives was labeled right, but the placard was wrong.

This was just one out of hundreds of containers inspected in a Coast Guard-led initiative that involved 12 federal agencies and lasted over three days around the Ports of New York and New Jersey in March 2008. The initiative, called a multi-agency strike force operation (MASFO), focused on identification of safety violations in the storage and shipment of hazardous materials and numerous other deficiencies, and also built cooperation among organizations that do not work together every day.

“This has allowed everyone to come together and inspect cargo on roads, railways, ports, and vessels,” said John Hillin, an inspector at Coast Guard Sector New York’s Prevention Division. “With 100 inspectors working together, they have been able to learn a great deal and will work better as a team in the future, providing a safer port.”

The Players
Participants in the MASFO included the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, National Cargo Bureau, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, New Jersey State Police, Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Department, Port Authority Police Department, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration, and the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Each of these agencies has specialties; having other members of agencies working in areas they usually wouldn’t provided a unique training experience. Each agency defined the roles of its participants. For example, the Federal Railroad Administration inspected cargo on trains, Port Authority Police worked alongside agencies to provide safety and assist with inspections, and the New Jersey State Police helped assist in roadside inspections and law enforcement.

Checks and Balances
With members of multiple agencies working together, the multi-agency strike force operation was also able to “catch” more in terms of identifying violations and deficiencies, as a whole.

“The idea is if there is a problem with a shipment, to catch it before it gets into another transportation mode,” said Joe Evans, a hazardous materials program manager at the Federal Motor Carrier Administration. “We check brakes, tires, driver credentials, and licensing to make sure he is able to carry hazardous material.”

While many agencies were local, Coast Guard leaders in the field of marine safety, inspection, and prevention traveled from places like Boston, Mass., and Oklahoma City, Okla., to work together during this operation and unique learning experience.

During the course of the MASFO there were 28 containers put on hold, 76 inspected containers found with deficiencies, 127 violations issued, and 15 trucks placed out of service. With roughly 2,000 man-hours and 636 containers inspected, this proved to be a large, successful operation that left road, rail, and waterways safer, while bolstering the communication and cooperation among agencies enforcing shipping safety and regulation.

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