News: Coast Guard to improve response capability, interagency operations with WatchKeeper software
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Coast Guard personnel from Sector Anchorage, Alaska, and agency partners from the 176th Air Defense Squadron, State of Alaska Emergency Operations Center and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation met June 10-11 to take their first look at WatchKeeper, a software system designed to allow multiple agencies to simultaneously monitor port security concerns and communicate strategies for interagency operations.
WatchKeeper is the Coast Guard’s response to the need for Interagency Operations Centers in key ports identified by the Department of Homeland Security in the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006. The system coordinates and organizes port security information to help DHS and federal, state and local maritime partners make the best use of their resources to keep America’s ports safe.
“By working with our federal, state and local partners, WatchKeeper will provide a tracking system showing positions of Coast Guard and partner agency response boats in the event of a maritime emergency,” said Mike McNeil, command duty officer, Sector Anchorage command center. “In addition to tracking vessel traffic and storing information about vessels using our waterways, the system will identify assets closest to an emergency before we even pick up the phone to request assistance. This software improves our ability to respond with our partners to search and rescue cases and affirms our commitment to port safety.”
WatchKeeper allows for Coast Guard and agency partners to identify and track vessels and share information on the fly over a shared connection. When distance, infrastructure and other challenges don’t allow for agencies to share a location, this virtual Interagency Operations Center ensures unity of effort. Graphic provided by U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Aside from the Alaska Air National Guard and State EOC, the Coast Guard hopes the software will draw interest from the Alaska Marine Exchange and other agencies before it officially goes online. WatchKeeper is already active in 36 U.S. ports from Guam to Jacksonville, Fla., where Coast Guard personnel have partnered with Customs and Border Protection agents to vet commercial vessels and control the flow of traffic in and out of the busy port.
“WatchKeeper will be another useful tool in our toolbox,” said Brian Mitchell, emergency management specialist II, SEOC. “The vessel tracking and identification provided by the system and being able to share information about a response with other agencies in real-time over the computer should prove to be very useful during an incident.”
An official date for the implementation of the software hasn’t been set but Coast Guard officials expect the system to be up and running by autumn 2014, and the agencies involved in the software introduction meeting seemed impressed by what lays ahead.
“We’re looking to better integrate with other homeland defense agencies, and we’re highly interested in many of the Coast Guard systems WatchKeeper uses to record vessel manifests and track locations in order to expand our own maritime domain awareness and provide greater protection to Alaska,” said Capt. Nicholas Dillon from the 176th Air Defense Squadron. “WatchKeeper seems like a first step in the right direction.”
This work, Coast Guard to improve response capability, interagency operations with WatchKeeper software, by PO1 Shawn Eggert, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.