Captain’s Corner: Watchkeeper

U.S. Coast Guard photo of CAPT Tom Allan taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy TamargoWelcome back to the Captain’s Corner. This month, Lieutenant Commander Pat Sullivan, the Chief of our Command Center, gives you some insight into our command center’s responsibilities and a few details on how one of our key programs, “WatchKeeper” keeps us abreast of port operations. Always alert and trained to respond to any maritime incident, the command center helps us to fulfill our mission, ensuring the Coast Guard can protect those on the sea, protect our Nation from threats delivered by the sea, and protect the sea itself. If you ever have questions or need Coast Guard assistance you can always contact our Command Center 24 hours a day at 904-564-7511 or via VHF channel 16. We always remain “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready) to assist our partners and the citizens of the First Coast. See you in the port!
– CAPT Tom Allan

WatchKeeper: Keeping an Eye on the Port

By LCDR Pat Sullivan, Chief of Sector Jacksonville Command Center

Sector Jacksonville’s command center facilitates the execution of and response to all Coast Guard missions in the St. Johns River, Intracoastal Waterway and offshore from the Florida-Georgia border to approximately 15 miles south of Cape Canaveral. Coordinating with federal, state and local partners, our command center provides the Captain of the Port (COTP) a 24×7 professional command and control platform charged with managing marine information and response plans for search and rescue, marine safety, security and law enforcement. The command center is able to provide such a platform based on its communications capabilities and variety of operational resources, doing our best to keep the marine picture clear, real-time and accurate. WatchKeeper, a system developed to improve situational awareness, operations monitoring and information sharing, is a vital tool we use each day to make decisions and execute our myriad of missions.

In compliance with the Security and Accountability for Every Port (SAFE Port) Act of 2006, the Department of Homeland Security directed establishment of Interagency Operations Centers to enhance cooperation among port partners and advance multi-agency maritime security operations. At Sector Jacksonville, WatchKeeper is the hull that keeps our operational picture afloat. Responsible for monitoring over 3,000 vessel arrivals and managing hundreds of vessel escorts each year, we would be overwhelmed without a system capable of coordinating maritime information to help us and our partners keep our ports safe and secure.

With welcomed partnership from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Sector’s Joint Maritime Advanced Scheduling and Targeting Team (JMASTT) at Blount Island works with the command center in Mayport to vet commercial vessels and control the flow of traffic in and out of our busy ports. Using WatchKeeper, we track the status of each vessel and the COTP is able to make the appropriate decisions to inspect or levy additional requirements on specific vessels to maintain the integrity of the port’s safety and security. Briefed at least twice each day on the status of all commercial vessels in the area, the COTP sees real-time positions and is able to quickly reference important details like ship size, cargo, and last port of call, all found and maintained in WatchKeeper.

Aside from vessel traffic, WatchKeeper helps the command center control nearly 500 marine cases per year. Collaborating with our federal, state and local partners, WatchKeeper provides a tracking system showing positions of Coast Guard and partner agency response boats. For example, if a mariner calls on the radio about a distress case on the St. Johns River, WatchKeeper shows the closest capable asset before we even pick up the phone and request assistance. This teamwork and ability to quickly manage search and rescue cases instills confidence in the boating public and affirms our commitment to port safety.

WatchKeeper is the primary tool the command center uses to satisfy the spirit of the SAFE Port Act and the intent of interagency operations. With our port partners’ help, we will continue to safely and smartly execute missions by maintaining situational awareness, sharing information and closely examining operations.