There is probably no other organization in the world that does more work with fewer resources than the U.S. Coast Guard. As one of the world’s oldest operating navies, its mission is global in reach and local in impact. Their actions shape not just the safety and security of our shorelines, but the commerce that traverses all of our waterways.
While its mission has not changed, the domains in which the USCG must operate have changed dramatically. Serving in those areas – water, land, air and now cyber – means they have to be resolute and steadfast to their motto of “Semper Paratus” – “Always Ready.” That’s easier said than done – especially as threats and risks evolve and the service is continually overcommitted and under-resourced to execute its missions. That puts even more pressure on leadership to make mission-critical decisions with the always-limited resources that they have in hand.
For generations, those decisions came from experience and gut. For all of the training classes and book learning a Coastie might take on, be they officer or enlisted, nothing could or ever would replace the knowledge and know-how that comes from being “hands on” in mission operations. Until you’ve encountered cavitating seas, turbulent winds, desperate refugees, water rescues, deadly drug runners and complex maritime port operations, you really don’t know a thing.
Those types of insights are immeasurable, but as any mission operator knows there are some warning signs you don’t see until it’s too late and the danger is upon you. When that happens, it puts you in a defensive posture and that’s not anywhere anyone wants to be.
Enter the role of data and analytics and that posture can change dramatically. Like its other DHS components, the USCG has a reservoir of data about anything and everything it does. And despite the smart acumen of its versatile, MacGyver-like personnel to execute on missions, no one person can know and keep track of all those details. It requires a team approach to pull it all together, sort through it and give data insightful meaning if it is to be ultimately useful to decision-makers at all levels.
Data is also only useful if it tells you something, and if it can tell you you’ve got a problem coming your direction, it is even more valuable. That’s a lesson the USCG is all the better for having.
Just over a decade ago, the Coast Guard was finally receiving the overdue attention and financial resources it desperately needed for its aging infrastructure. The $25 billion Deepwater Program was envisioned to address “everything from long-range patrol aircraft and UAVs, to new communications and computing backbones, to new ship designs.” Needless to say, things did not go as planned.
With significant cost overruns, management difficulties and a lack of transparency into when acquisition programs were encountering problems, the Coast Guard had to take aggressive steps to rebuild public confidence in its fleet modernization efforts. With billions in investments and hundreds of new boats and systems being added to its fleet, the USCG needed stronger controls, greater transparency, and better oversight into program management if its modernization efforts were to be successful.
To do that, they established a new directorate in charge of enforcing acquisition project oversight and system management. Known as CG-9 Acquisition, the directorate shifted system-integration responsibilities directly into the hands of USCG’s top leadership. But for leadership to be effective, it had to have insight into what’s happening in its universe. That is only possible if leaders can access and understand what data is telling them. That’s where the Acquisition Performance Management System (APMS) enters the picture.
APMS is an enterprise business intelligence application for collecting, organizing, and displaying business information for organizational analysis and reporting. Installed in 2004, APMS was deployed to improve efficiency in the monitoring and managing of USCG’s acquisition projects. From there APMS grew across the entire Acquisition Directorate, providing a structured way of combining all management and operations improvement initiatives into one point allowing leaders access to updates at any time. That type of transparency was not just informative to USCG leadership, it empowered personnel up and down the chain of command to make decisions that could save already constrained money but improve resource allocation and adjustments before other problems could occur.
That same premise of information in hand of decision-makers is what is also driving the success of collaborative research effort that the Coast Guard is doing with DHS’ Science & Technology Directorate and the Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. During the 2017 hurricane season that will forever be remembered for its fury and cost, CRC researchers took data from multiple sources to examine coastal storm surge, as well as other weather, flooding and wind models to help their research partner – the U.S. Coast Guard – decide where to best position their rescue crafts and personnel as hurricanes Irma and Maria came ashore last year. Called Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC), the research project enabled Coast Guard leaders to make more informed decisions to move their people and equipment to safer and more resilient storm locations.
Such a move would not only allow them to better protect their people and equipment from harm, it would allow them to be faster in responding to an area’s critical needs after storms have passed. That type of informed decision-making does more than save time and expensive equipment from ruin: It saves lives.
In recent remarks at the DHS Center of Excellence Summit, Acting Under Secretary for Science & Technology Bill Bryan shared that the commander of the USCG’s 7th District, Rear Admiral Peter Brown, declared, “I won’t show up to hurricane season without [ADCIRC].” Votes of confidence often don’t come much louder than that, which is why the Coast Guard’s future continues to show forward motion.
They can still possess and refine all the guts, gumption and “hands-on” experience that comes from always-dynamic threat environments but have the courage to utilize the new solutions and insights that data and analytics can provide to them. It’s just further example of a culture and ethos that is and always has been “always ready.” That is a mission well served at every level.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.