Maritime Security: Ferry Security Measures Have Been Implemented, but Evaluating Existing Studies Could Further Enhance Security

GAO-11-207 Published: Dec 03, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 03, 2010.
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Highlights

Ferries are a vital component of the U.S. transportation system and 2008 data show that U.S. ferries carried more than 82 million passengers and over 25 million vehicles. Ferries are also potential targets for terrorism in the United States and have been terrorist targets overseas. GAO was asked to review ferry security, and this report addresses the extent to which (1) the Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for maritime security, assessed risk in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) guidance and what risks it identified; and (2) federal agencies, ferry and facility operators, and law enforcement entities have taken actions to protect ferries and their facilities. GAO reviewed relevant requirements, analyzed 2006 through 2009 security operations data, interviewed federal and industry officials, and made observations at five domestic and one international locations with varying passenger volumes and relative risk profiles. Site visits provided information on security, but were not projectable to all ports. This is the public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in October 2010. Information that DHS deemed sensitive has been redacted.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Coast Guard To ensure that the Coast Guard considers all known options for securing the ferry transportation system and is not missing opportunities to enhance ferry security, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, after fully evaluating the findings and recommendations from the Coast Guard's 2005 and 2006 ferry security reports, should take appropriate actions to address the findings and recommendations identified in these reports.
Closed – Implemented
Based on our review of the Coast Guard's efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on large passenger ferries we recommended that the Coast Guard review the findings of its 2005 and 2006 ferry security reports and take appropriate actions to address the findings and recommendations identified in these reports. To demonstrate the actions taken to implement this recommendation the Coast Guard provided documents that summarized their overall response, along with a charter for the Ferry Security Working Group, a revised Breach of Security process guide, a 2011 guidance message regarding Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Team coordination efforts, and an update to the Washington State Ferries Alternative Security Program. These documents demonstrated that the Coast Guard established a government/industry working group in Spring 2011 to obtain input on the results of the ferry security studies and their recommendations, assessed current domestic and international security measures being carried out by the ferry industry, and evaluated any recommendations for policy or regulatory changes to address perceived gaps in ferry security. The Coast Guard also developed additional guidance with ferry security partners. Based on the working group's review, current standards were determined to be sufficient and no changes to the standards were recommended or undertaken. Because the Coast Guard reviewed the studies as we recommended and determined whether additional action was needed or not based on the findings of these reports, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
United States Coast Guard To ensure that the Coast Guard considers all known options for securing the ferry transportation system and is not missing opportunities to enhance ferry security, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, upon review of the reports, should ensure that vehicle screening requirements are set at an appropriate level that considers both the risks to and operating requirements of ferry systems, and when warranted, reassess screening requirements for ferries and make changes as appropriate.
Closed – Implemented
Additionally, we recommended that after the Coast Guard reviews the findings of the 2005 and 2006 ferry security reports it set vehicle screening requirements at an appropriate level that considers both the risks to and operating requirements of ferry systems. According to the its written response to our follow up and the charter of the Ferry Security Working Group, the Coast Guard worked with the working group and considered the need for screening rate percentage changes. The group determined that current percentages were sufficient and hence no changes were made to current standards. Further, the Coast Guard responded to us that screening guidance and screening percentages will be regularly reviewed and reconsidered as part of the ongoing work of the working group to assure that changes in risk to ferries bring about appropriate adjustments. Because the Coast Guard, in conjunction with industry partners reviewed vehicle screening standards and considered the need for screening rate changes based on identified risks we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

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