Thursday, July 15, 2010

Providing Information to Mariners—the U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA team up

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by CDR Brian J. Tetreault, Chief, Vessel Traffic Services Division, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Shore Forces; Mr. Michael Winkler, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center; and Mr. Darren Wright, Program Manager, NOAA PORTS®.

The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) all have leading roles in promoting marine safety and providing mariners critical navigational safety information.

For example, the Coast Guard’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) infrastructure is currently used to more effectively provide the USACE and NOAA’s large amounts of data to mariners via electronic transfer. This effort is focused on vessel traffic service areas where the Coast Guard has existing AIS capability, but as the Coast Guard expands this capability, it is anticipated that these applications will expand to other areas.

AIS has primarily been used as a sensor to aid in vessel tracking, complementing the information available through vessel voice reports, radar, and visual means. AIS has generally improved the monitoring of vessels, allowing more accurate and frequent tracking in areas where there were limited sensors and the confirmation of vessels’ identities were only observed on radar or through remote television cameras.

Expanded Use of AIS Capability
There is great potential to further improve vessel traffic service operations using Automatic Identification System transmit capability. AIS may be used as another way to provide information to mariners silently and on existing navigation systems. Mariners who have seen the benefits of AIS aboard have been asking for additional information.

For example, pilot organizations in several large port areas have asked for AIS-transmitted weather information, and inland towboat operators have asked for weather and hydrological data to assist them with difficult lock approaches. Two of the primary information providers are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for navigation safety and services on more than 11,000 miles of inland and inland coastal waterways, nearly 200 lock sites, and other critical navigation infrastructure. USACE continually works to improve navigation safety and efficiency and has established an overarching program—the Coastal and River Information Service. Its purpose is to facilitate transfer of electronic information regarding navigation activity on our nation’s rivers and along coastal areas. The ultimate goal is to provide the framework by which the USACE can utilize and obtain electronic data that relates to commercial transportation on the U.S. coastal and inland waterways systems.

Cooperation Through an Interagency Research Project
An overarching project has been established with the USCG Research and Development Center to investigate the implementation of Automatic Identification System transmit capability. There are three main efforts associated with this project, all with a high level of interagency cooperation. First, a requirements study gathered information from various stakeholders involved with AIS transmit capability. The Coast Guard, USACE, NOAA, and others worked together to determine which agencies collected data that could be disseminated via the Automatic Identification System; what capabilities they already had for collecting, managing, and disseminating this information; and what capabilities would be needed to improve such dissemination.

This requirements study is being used to guide the second main effort of the project—establishing a test bed and individual demonstration projects of the capability. The information gathered from the test bed and demonstration projects will be used to refine requirements to be used as a basis for establishing the capability in operational systems nationwide.

The third main effort of the project is the establishment of a working group to review current VTS AIS capability within U.S. waters, review the potential uses of AIS-transmitted messages as part of an expanded VTS AIS capability, identify both the challenges and opportunities associated with this capability, recommend new or revised AIS transmit/broadcast messages suitable for regional and international implementation, and identify changes needed for Automatic Identification System equipment to support new/expanded capabilities.

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