Re: Coast Guard to "protect" ports from scuba divers


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Posted by on February 03, 2005 at 11:23:26:

In Reply to: Coast Guard to "protect" ports from scuba divers posted by on February 02, 2005 at 03:00:14:

Coast Guard officials unveiled a new underwater security system in the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday designed to protect the nation's ports from underwater terrorist attacks.

The Underwater Port Security System uses high-frequency sonar accurate enough to distinguish humans from nonhumans underwater, say a scuba diver from a dolphin. The system will be used to map the ocean floor and inspect piers, ship hulls and other underwater structures for explosives.

"For the first time in our Coast Guard, we can offer security underneath the surface," said Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area.

He outlined three purposes for the system: to narrow the vulnerabilities at ports, to help determine potential threats and to strengthen the public's confidence in port safety.

The system has two parts.

In the Underwater Inspection System, trained divers and remotely operated vehicles will inspect piers and the ocean bottom. In the Integrated Anti-Swimmer System, sonar will be used to detect divers or other underwater threats and relay images of the target to processors on land.

A team Wednesday at the Coast Guard Integrated Support Command on Terminal Island demonstrated the system.

As Petty Officer 2nd Class Jachob Smith manned a processing center set up on a pier, three laptop screens displayed different images. One screen showed real-time images underwater of schools of fish swimming by.

A sonar device attached to the pier detected a pair of divers. This triggered one of the laptops to turn on a female automated voice that repeated the phrase "track alert."

A signal was sent to a response boat on the glistening blue-green surface. A crew member lowered a high-frequency, 4-foot sonar into the water where the activity was reported.

In a real incident, the crew may send down an underwater loudspeaker to tell a diver to come to the surface or give other instructions. The speaker can give instructions in English, Spanish and Arabic.

If the diver refuses to surface, there are other systems in place that will force the diver to surface, including an entangling system, said Petty Officer Frank Rinaudo.

The system is one of the latest homeland security initiatives.

Concerns about terrorist strikes by scuba divers were raised three years ago after the FBI announced it was investigating whether al-Qaida operatives took scuba training to attack ships at anchor, bridges or other waterfront targets.

The Coast Guard, however, has not identified any specific terrorist threats, Johnson said.

During the past three years, the Coast Guard has added 4,500 personnel, 65 patrol boats and 235 safe response boats.

"This adds one layer of security," Johnson said. "There's still years of work to do to be safe in our ports."

The underwater system has been in development and testing since November 2002. It will be deployed to recently organized special maritime security teams nationwide.

There are such teams in each of the nation's 13 major ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco. Each team is composed of 76 members and six safe boats.

Coast Guard researchers worked with the U.S. Navy, the University of Texas, the University of Washington and the Department of Defense on this project. Officials declined to say how much the system cost.

The system's equipment is made from items previously produced for commercial or government uses, said Lt. Cmdr. Alan T. Tubbs, a design team member for the system. Commercial equipment includes remotely operated vehicles, such as those that have been used to explore the Titanic.

Officials said each team should be fully trained with the portable equipment in three months.

The Coast Guard has used the system operationally in Hawaii within the past few months, and more than one team will be deployed to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Super Bowl to inspect cruise ships, Johnson said.



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