UW News

July 8, 2015

New maritime security project draws Coast Guard’s top admiral to visit UW

Puget Sound’s complex maritime landscape — with huge port operations, ferries, commercial fishing fleets, cruise ships, recreational boaters, U.S. Navy ships, and tribes — makes a good test bed for investigating and improving security practices.

A new University of Washington research center that has uncovered “profound actionable implications” for improving maritime security nationwide is drawing a visit to the UW Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering on Thursday from Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, the U.S. Coast Guard’s commandant and top leader.

Admiral Zukunft will hear from researchers with the UW’s Center for Collaborative Systems for Security, Safety and Regional Resilience (CoSSaR), which has embarked on a multiyear study to understand and support the information sharing requirements to deliver round-the-clock security and safety services in Puget Sound.

After 9/11, research that focused on disaster, emergency and incident preparedness, response and recovery increased dramatically. Large government agencies and small nonprofits alike rushed to plan how they would operate in the event of a crisis. But this increased focus on emergency operations generally overlooked how day-to-day information sharing makes our waters safer.

“Sharing information on a daily basis is just as — if not more — important than how we respond in a crisis,” said Mark Haselkorn, CoSSaR director and UW professor of human centered design and engineering. “That’s what establishes our working trust relationships and helps us connect the dots to keep our communities safe and resilient.”

Zukunft also plans to meet with Kate Starbird, a CoSSaR project leader and assistant professor of human centered design and engineering, whose Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation (emCOMP) lab is investigating how social media outlets like Twitter are used and can be leveraged in the wake of natural disasters or manmade crises.

CoSSaR’s flagship research project, the Maritime Operations Information Sharing Analysis, grew out of a recognition by federal agencies that policies and technical solutions to improve maritime security need to be better aligned, based on a better understanding of how people actually perform their day-to-day jobs.

A UW research team spent its first year researching how information is shared among partners in the Puget Sound maritime security and safety community, which includes multiple ports, multiple law enforcement agencies, tribes, commercial and recreational fishermen, shipping companies, U.S. and Canadian coast guards, the U.S. Navy, fish and wildlife agents, cruise lines, truck and rail companies, recreational boaters and the largest ferry system in the U.S. Among the conclusions the team reached were:

  • Day-to-day information sharing is driven by relationships and informal networks based on “who you know” and “who you can trust”
  • Those systems can be disrupted by retirements and personnel turnovers
  • Top-down, technology-driven federal security mandates have had unintended consequences and made work harder, not easier
  • For most maritime community members, security is not the primary focus of day-to-day work
  • Industry and commercial agencies feel left out of the information exchange
  • Security clearances and economic competition can create difficulties in information sharing
  • Too much information is often viewed as more of a problem than too little
  • New technology is often perceived as a burden and dismissed without a full understanding of its potential

Admiral Zukunft will participate in discussions about current and future CoSSaR projects, including the national and international Information Sharing Environment, social media during crisis events and technology innovation to enhance the missions of the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard. Of particular importance will be how CoSSaR is working to engage a diverse set of regional stakeholders in homeland security design and development of technology to support Puget Sound’s dedicated safety and security community.

“Before we can improve something, we need to understand how people currently make it work,” said Haselkorn. “With these findings and conversations with national leaders like Admiral Zukunft, we hope to better align federal, state and local investments with the operations and missions of our regional maritime community.”

For more information, contact Haselkorn at CoSSaR@uw.edu.