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GAO Praises Coast Guard’s Shore Infrastructure Resilience but Finds Room for Improvement

The U.S. Coast Guard has more than 20,000 shore facilities—such as boat stations and piers—that are often vulnerable to damage from natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review found the Coast Guard has improved some of its facilities to make them more resilient, but needs to do more to stay on top of the risk. For example, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidance suggests prioritizing projects by how crucial the asset is to the mission. The Coast Guard, however, hasn’t assessed the majority of its infrastructure—including piers, which are mission critical.

In its September 25 report detailing the findings of its review, GAO says the Coast Guard’s main actions to improve resilience have been to repair or rebuild shore infrastructure to higher building standards after it has been damaged by extreme weather events. The Coast Guard has received more than $2 billion in supplemental appropriations since 2005 to improve resilience after severe storms and has developed new guidance requiring that repairs and new construction meet higher building standards to make it more resilient. Further, in 2015, the Coast Guard began an assessment of certain occupied buildings to identify their vulnerabilities to ten natural hazards, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. As of 2018, this assessment covered approximately 16 percent of the Coast Guard’s shore infrastructure. The Coast Guard aims to complete the assessment in 2025.

However, as highlighted above, Coast Guard processes to improve shore infrastructure resilience do not fully align with the DHS guidance for critical infrastructure risk management. This guidance recommends that DHS components, among other things, identify critical infrastructure, assess risks, and implement risk management activities. While GAO found that the Coast Guard has identified some vulnerable shore infrastructure through its ongoing assessment, it has not identified all shore assets that may be vulnerable, such as piers and runways; or assessed operational risks affecting its ability to complete missions with these assets. In addition, the report mentions that Coast Guard has not taken steps to develop mitigation strategies for buildings already identified as vulnerable.

Coast Guard data show a growing backlog of at least $2.6 billion in recapitalization, new construction, and deferred maintenance projects that compete for finite funding. However, Coast Guard officials were unable to verify that they have consistently selected projects to also enhance resilience. Coast Guard officials told GAO that they have not used the DHS framework and have instead focused on implementing their ongoing vulnerability assessment.

GAO recommends that the Coast Guard revise its processes for improving shore infrastructure resilience to more fully align with the DHS critical infrastructure risk management framework. This should include, for example, identifying critical infrastructure, assessing risks, and implementing risk management activities. DHS concurred and stated that it plans to make progress towards implementing GAO’s recommendation concurrently with the development and implementation of its Component Resilience Plan, in accordance with the recently mandated DHS Resilience Framework. It intends to complete these efforts by the end of 2021. The Coast Guard also intends to develop, by July 2020, goals and objectives for measuring the effectiveness of actions taken to identify resilience readiness gaps and resource needs.

Read the complete report at GAO

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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