Safe & Secure

Island businesses strive to comply with new federal maritime security regulations

November, 2004

The call came on a warm, humid July evening. The U.S. Coast Guard, Don Grimes was told, would be paying a visit tomorrow. There would be a facility inspection, a review process and, no doubt, some hard questioning.

Grimes put the phone down and smiled.

“The next day, the Coast Guard showed up, inspected our site and tested some of our employees on their training,” recalls Grimes, operations manager and facilities security officer for Airport Group International-Honolulu (AGI), which operates a facility at Pier 51 on Sand Island. “But we were ready for them.”

AGI, which manages the complete operation and maintenance of the Honolulu Airport’s fuel facilities, is just one of dozens of state- or privately owned facilities that fall under the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA), which was developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2002. Under the MTSA, all harbor and port facilities are required to submit and implement comprehensive security plans to protect against terrorist attacks. According to the Coast Guard, there are 63 facilities in Hawaii that are required to meet MTSA standards.

“When [the Coast Guard] arrived, we wanted to pick out the person for them to quiz – one of our top guys, obviously – but they said no,” says Grimes. “Instead, they looked at our staff and picked the most junior guy we had. Then they took him aside and presented him a scenario. They were real pleased with his response, and so were we. We passed with flying colors.”

AGI, in fact, was the first facility in the Coast Guard’s District 14 (which covers the Hawaiian Islands, Guam and American Samoa) to become fully compliant with the MTSA. While the deadline to implement these security plans – July 1, 2004 – has come and gone, the good news is other companies aren’t lagging too far behind.

“As of July 1, everybody either had an approved plan or a letter of authorization from us to continue to operate,” says Capt. Timothy V. Skuby, a Federal maritime security officer and 25-year veteran of the Coast Guard. “Everyone’s working hard to keep in compliance, and no facility has been forced to shut down. I think the progress has been very satisfactory.”

Oct. 31 was to be the next deadline, when all facilities needed to have their security plans completely approved.

Skuby says that the MTSA calls for performance-based requirements that begin with a threat-assessment risk analysis. “It’s basically up to each company or facility to tell us what they think they need,” he says. “Some of the things they could do include adding fencing, security cameras and roving patrols.”

Many businesses or facilities have chosen to undergo specialized training. AGI, for example, hired Honolulu-based Star Protection Agency to help the company meet maritime security (MARSEC) standards. Star, which opened for business in 1991 and maintains a staff of approximately 500 personnel, is a full-service company that deals with workplace security and other security-related issues.

“Star put together a really good eight-hour training package and lesson plan for us,” says Grimes. “We got all our guys through in three separate sessions, and we were very impressed with the training.”

“Right now, we have a number of major facilities that we’re working with down at the waterfront,” says Robin Medeiros, a certified protection professional (CPP) at Star. “We’re assisting in providing MARSEC-trained officers to their existing security programs, and we’re also working with organizations and facilities in training their officers and staff. We teach them how to understand and recognize potential problems.”

While maritime security isn’t a major part of their business, Medeiros and fellow Star CPP Bob Flating predict that may change.

“If people think the Coast Guard isn’t taking the MTSA seriously, they’re wrong,” says Flating. “If the hammer starts to come down on these businesses, we might not have enough time to handle it all. Suddenly, you’re going to see a lot of people asking, ‘Where can we get this training?'”

Adds Medeiros, “Not everyone’s complying. Or maybe they’re doing it, yes, but they’re dragging their feet. The minute the Coast Guard says, ‘We’re fining this company,’ everybody’s going to be scrambling.”

Skuby, for one, is hoping it never comes to that.

“We’ve issued a few warnings, but that’s it,” says Skuby. “Penalties can include monetary fines, big or small, depending on the severity of the situation. The ultimate penalty is that we’d have to shut down the facility. But we’re doing our best to make sure that commerce continues. We have a job to do, and if I have to shut somebody down or close a facility, I will do that. But that’s not my goal.”

Meeting MTSA requirements, of course, comes at a cost. According to The Federal Register (October 2003), the first-year costs of purchasing and installing equipment, hiring security officers and preparing the necessary paperwork for the 5,000 applicable facilities nationwide was $1.125 billion. The estimated annual cost is approximately $656 million. To alleviate some of the financial burden, the Transportation Security Administration offers port security grants. So far, Hawaii facilities have been awarded more than $11 million in grants.

Grimes says the price tag for AGI to implement its enhanced security program fell under $10,000. “We saved money by doing the initial planning ourselves,” he says. “I understand that some of the bigger companies had plans that cost them close to six figures.”

Is it worth the money?

“Oh, absolutely,” says Grimes. “We recognized the need for [the MTSA], and so we put our nose to the grindstone and did what we had to do. And now we’re much better off.”

“Any place is a potential target, and Hawaii is no exception,” says Skuby. “We have major commerce here, as well as a major military presence. We’re also unique here in Hawaii because we’re at least six hours away from any calvary that’s going to come. So it’ll take a team effort here. We have great partnerships with the state and private businesses, and that’s the key to meeting our goals.

“We’re all working together to make sure nothing happens here. No one can ever guarantee that, but that’s what we’re striving for.”

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