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COVID-19 Underscores Urgency of Coast Guard Tech Crisis, Says Commandant

The coronavirus pandemic underscores the need for the U.S. Coast Guard to transform its technology to more agile systems, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said.

“We need this tech revolution and this is really sort of fuel for the fire to talk about just how urgent it is for the future of the Coast Guard,” Schultz told Sea-Air-Space 2020, which was held in a virtual format last week due to the coronavirus.

As the pandemic continues, “first and foremost we’re focused on the preparation the preparedness of our workforce maintaining a ready workforce, a healthy workforce allows us to be ready to accomplish Coast Guard missions,” he said.

“Coast Guard missions continue across the globe; obviously, they’ve been scoped a bit here in light of the COVID-19 challenge,” Schultz said. “I think we’re really focused on a couple primary areas. That’s facilitate what we call the Martine Transportation System, that is the nation’s 355 seaports, the 25,000 miles of waterways where the nation’s commerce works. We’re continuing to respond to urgent search-and-rescue cases and security in our ports, and then there’s some ongoing work in counternarcotics and other stuff. But right now we’re focused on people, readiness and then enabling the economic prosperity and security of the nation.”

“In terms of our readiness today, this is very dynamic and the sight picture changes every day but we’re posturing the Coast Guard, this maritime first response organization to get after the challenges that come out of the COVID threat.”

That has included dealing with thousands of passengers needing to disembark cruise ships, as well as thousands of crew members on other ships offshore.

“We are postured to be ready for the immediate challenges; beyond the COVID-19 challenge, obviously, there will be different kinds of readiness challenges. Readiness was my focus into the job, has been my focus,” Schultz said noting that the focus on people right now “has been a little bit different challenge — it’s focused on ready people to get into the fight here,” including coordinating with FEMA and state EOCs.

“People remains the absolute center of gravity for Coast Guard readiness – right now, it’s people who are not afflicted by the COVID virus who can get into the fight and do things,” he said.

Schultz acknowledged that the Coast Guard has “kicked the can a bit on our IT infrastructure.”

“And you get to a point when you can’t kick that can anymore. I need to be fielding mobility for a bright, young workforce because they expect that. It’s a competitive disadvantage to not be doing that. In the current crisis situation where I’ve got a workforce disaggregated all over the country here to responsibly social distance, physical distance, so that we’re not contributing to the numbers affected here, that mobility’s all the more important,” he said. “I think the current crisis allows us to speak into that with some different metrics, with some different urgency, but what we’re looking at is greater connectivity for our cutters.”

“Right now there’s not a heavy cutter portion of response here, but there could be a different kind of crisis where those cutters are absolutely more seminal to it and the lack of cutter connectivity is an issue,” Schultz said. “It’s the mobility. So I would say this just validates the urgency. I’ve got thousands of employees that are teleworking right now, which is the responsible thing to do, and I’ve got tens of thousands of frontline operators still doing their job. But even our capacity to telework, we’re making some immediate expenditures.”

Keeping with his long-term goals for tech modernization, Schultz said the workforce should start to see more mobility over the next year or two.

“We need to refresh, recapitalize our technology on an industry-based standard, not the current standard; we need to move to the cloud,” the commandant said. “We’re doing that with some unique applications now and we’re learning from that. We need to pay attention to what the Department of Defense is doing across the river with their JEDI initiative … possibly even fall in on that.”

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Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a speciality in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, anti-Semitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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