Harbor Security Melds Sensors, Databases

January 15, 2008
Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Coast Guard boat patrols Boston harbor. A port security system installed there for the Democratic National Convention in 2004 is a foundation for a broader harbor security system that connects databases and various sensors for real-time automatic alerts.

A system that combines U.S. Navy and Coast Guard requirements for port security may be the key to securing harbors against maritime threats. Built largely with off-the-shelf technologies, the system can allow officials to monitor ship traffic by combining database knowledge with real-time sensor input.


The Harbor and Coastal Security (HCS) system provides a situational awareness picture of a harbor’s waterway. It supports maritime domain awareness by collecting data from various sensors and fusing it for display in a command center. These sensors can include optical and radar systems, and their data are correlated into the HCS situational awareness picture. The system can correlate data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that sends signals from vessels bearing its transponders. It includes vessel and facility database integration.


The system also permits targeting a ship for surveillance. A port camera can be slewed to view a particular vessel, and it automatically will follow that ship until reassigned. Both optical and infrared cameras can be incorporated into an HCS configuration.


A user can view a display featuring ship icons and their tracks. By clicking on a vessel track, the user can access information from various databases and determine whether any threat is present. The threat assessment tool is rule-based and has default settings. The threshold of that threat determination can be decided in advance by the customer, explains Leo Black. He is the program manager for Coast Guard and homeland security programs at Northrop Grumman, which makes the HCS.


The HCS situation display shows which sensors are supplying the data to generate a track. This enables a user to know precisely from where track data came. The user knows the reliability of each input—radar tracks are real-time and unaffected by human influence, for example, whereas AIS information can be reconfigured by individuals on a ship.


Tracking vessels is only part of the system’s capability. Users can establish security zones around different areas of their ports so that vessels entering those zones would trigger automatic alarms.


An HCS system can be built from the ground up or incorporated into an existing port sensor infrastructure. Web clients permit first responders to access the HCS via the Web.


HCS technology is derived from the Coast Guard’s Hawkeye system, which has been set up in several ports. Its genesis in turn was the need for a harbor security system in Hampton Roads/Norfolk, Virginia, home of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. The Navy facility was outfitted with a joint harbor operations center, or JHOC. The JHOC, which was a Navy/Coast Guard system, served as a sector command center, with sensors that provided port security for the Navy. It builds on the Coast Guard’s vessel traffic service system, which was designed to be interoperable with U.S. Defense Department systems.


Hawkeye was the result of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Science and Technology prototype development effort with the Coast Guard. It ties radars, cameras, AIS and other sensors to a central command center. It built on the JHOC, which effectively is a Hawkeye for the Navy.


Despite similar roots, a key difference between the HCS and Hawkeye is that the Coast Guard system is Unix-based, while the HCS is PC-based. Black explains that the PC basis opens up a world of potential off-the-shelf products that could be incorporated into the system for the customer. “Once you go PC-based, you could almost put the system in with several laptops,” Black says.


Other differences from Hawkeye enhance the system’s flexibility. Black relates that the HCS can accept several different radar processors that are PC-based. Company researchers are striving to enable it to accommodate different cameras, and other enhancements are in the works. Designers are developing the capability to incorporate acoustic sensors into the situational awareness element. This would permit offshore- and harbor-bottom acoustic sensors to provide input into the automatic alarm system. The acoustic data would be correlated with radar tracks, Black explains.


Engineers also are striving to enable HCS cameras to detect and track ships entering a harbor area. With this capability, a camera would serve the same function as a radar system. And, as different types of sensors can serve more roles, correlated data can alert users to a potential security risk. For example, if a database lists a vessel as having a different size than that which HCS sensors are detecting, then an automatic alarm can be triggered to alert users to this discrepancy—and a possible threat to the harbor.


Future iterations may include scene awareness, which would play a major role in automated anomaly detection. More varied sensors and data such as from airborne and satellite sources may be added. An HCS system could track a vessel from the moment it leaves a foreign port on its way to the protected harbor. And, when databases can amass container information accurately, that too could be incorporated into HCS threat assessment.


The full version of this article is published in the February 2008 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers February 1, 2008. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.