NTAS and Maritime Security Levels

There have been questions in the maritime transportation industry about the effect of the new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) on Maritime Security Levels. It turns out that the Coast Guard had worked out the answer rather quickly, but, as seems distressingly common in the maritime security field, didn’t do much to let anyone know.
Back in April, when NTAS was officially announced, I speculated on the impact of the new system on the maritime transportation industry— in view of the International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code it would be “pretty much business as usual,” other than eventual changes in the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) regulations to reference NTAS in place of the old Homeland Security Advisory System.
On April 25th, the Office of Port and Facility Activities at Coast Guard HQ released a message internal to the Coast Guard on the subject of “IMPACTS ON MARITIME TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ACT (MTSA) REGULATED PORTS, FACILITIES, AND VESSELS FROM IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NATIONAL TERRORISM ADVISORY SYSTEM (NTAS).” This message came after an ALCOAST message on “TRANSITION FROM THE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISORY SYSTEM (HSAS) TO THE NATIONAL TERRORISM ADVISORY SYSTEM (NTAS)” that was sent out on April 20th. As the ALCOAST message was not internet releasable, the only hints as to its contents come from the April 25th message. The latter cites the former for the proposition that the NTAS would be effective as of April 26th and seems to offer the following general statement as a partial summary of the ALCOAST: “There will be administrative changes to USCG activities relating to facilities regulated by REF B [33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 101-105(sic)]. However, changes to the way the Coast Guard inspects these facilities are not anticipated. A regulatory change proposal to revise 33 CFR 101 to reflect this change is in preparation.”
The April 25th message then separately discusses the impacts of NTAS, first, on 33 CFR 101-106 and, second, on USCG-approved security plans. As to the regulations, “pending further internal discussion on the NTAS and its possible relationship with Maritime Security (MARSEC) Levels, and completion of the regulatory change process,” the message provides policy guidance for “consistent nationwide administration of MARSEC Levels.”
MARSEC Levels continue to have the meanings defined in the existing regulations
All references to HSAS in the regulations are “obsolete and will no longer be used”
The three MARSEC Levels will continue to be used, “consistent with” the ISPS Code
If DHS issues an NTAS alert, “the Commandant will adjust the MARSEC Level if appropriate based on commensurate risk, any maritime nexus, and/or consultation with the” DHS Secretary (this was apparently in the ALCOAST)
Captains of the Port (COTPs) retain the authority to raise the MARSEC Level in their ports “in exigent circumstances, which are expected to be rare”
As to the impact of NTAS on USCG-approved security plans:
Owners/operators whose facility or vessel security plans currently reference HSAS “may decide” to change their plans to reflect NTAS. “Pending future regulatory changes,” they may do so by pen and ink changes, rather than submission of formal amendments (until their plans require renewal)
COTPs are to lead reviews of local Area Maritime Security Plans and make appropriate administrative changes, post the revised plans within Homeport, and advise “relevant port stakeholders”
Any vessel or facility signage that references HSAS is “no longer accurate” and “should be adjusted expeditiously as deemed appropriate” by owners/operators, considering that “currently there no requirements” to link NTAS to MARSEC Levels on signs
Finally, the message mandates that “Coast Guard and industry personnel with security duties shall stay current with threat information by visiting www.dhs.gov/alerts routinely.”
So we may take comfort in knowing that the Coast Guard had thought the issue through and had interim guidance in place before the NTAS went into effect. However, as it often does with maritime security policy matters, the Coast Guard chose to hide its light under a bushel basket. It’s less comforting to see a policy, particularly once that purports to require action of private sector individuals (gate guards, operators of screening machines, and others “with security duties” “shall” “routinely” check the NTAS alert website) promulgated with so little effort to notify those affected. It’s an old complaint, MTSA Policy Advisory Council (PAC) and TWIC/MTSA PAC Policy decisions are usually issued in the stealth mode (they simply appear within the Coast Guard’s Homeport website).
In this case, my path to enlightenment started with reading P. J. Coyle’s excellent blog, Chemical Facility Security News. One day, Patrick reported on a Sector New Orleans Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) on the impact of NTAS that one of his readers had sent him. This led me to check Homeport to see what other Sectors had done on the issue. Only Sector Baltimore had, by posting a copy of the April 25th message from Headquarters, which demonstrated that Sector New Orleans had reworked that message into its MSIB. This led me to check the Coast Guard Internet Releasable General Messages website, since, unlike Homeport, the Coast Guard’s main information site, it provides persistent links. (If you want to see the New Orleans MSIB, you’ll have to wade down a lengthy path into the bowels of Homeport: Select “Port Directory” in the gray horizontal bar at the top, then pick “New Orleans” from the pull-down menu in “Select Coast Guard Unit.” When that page comes up, scroll down to “Facility Inspections” on the left and click on “Marine Safety Information Bulletins (MSIB)” and select “MSIB 36 National Terrorism Advisory System” from “Supporting Documents” on the right.)
I suppose we could all spend our days rummaging around Homeport for something new. As shown above, however, things tend to be many clicks away from the portal and you can’t use a link to get there. Or we could check the Internet Releasable Message site on a daily basis. In this case, you would want to have known to look under the “Other” category (one of 13 categories), where the April 25th message immediately follows missives on “THIRD MOLAR NON-REMOVAL AND EXTRACTION CRITERIA” and “COAST GUARD ACCESSION PAP SMEARS.” Wouldn’t it be simpler to just issue a press release? They do it when they stop searching for someone lost at sea.
NOTE: This post, or any portion of it, may be copied, distributed, and displayed and derivative works may be based on it, provided it is attributed to Maritime Transportation Security News and Views by John C. W. Bennett, www.mpsint.com.
By Professional Mariner Staff