Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NTAS Changes for MTSA Facilities

Last month when DHS changed over from their old color-coded terrorist alert system to the new National Terrorism Alert System (NTAS) I did a blog about how that change would affect CFATS facilities and their preparation of site security plans. CFATS isn’t the only security program affected by this change. A couple of readers have noted that the Coast Guard’s MTSA security program also required the planning for enhanced security as the old Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) raised the threat level which, in turn, affected the Maritime Security (MARSEC) level.

Coast Guard Response to NTAS

One reader sent me a copy of a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) (I'm sorry I don't have a link for the document) published by the Captain of the Port for New Orleans on April 29th describing how MTSA covered facilities and vessels should adapt their approved security plans to the new NTAS pending specific changes to 33 CFR 101.

That MSIB provided the following policy guidance:

“1. MARSEC levels will continue to have the meaning defined by 33CFR101.105

“2. All references to the HSAS in 33CFR101 are obsolete and will no longer be used.

“3. The three MARSEC levels will continue to be used as before, except as follows. If the Secretary of Homeland Security issues an NTAS alert, the Commandant will adjust the MARSEC level if appropriate based on commensurate risk, any maritime nexus, and/or CCG consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security.”
It also provides an abbreviated change procedure for approved security plans to reflect the change from the HSAS to NTAS system:

“Pending future regulatory changes to 33CFR101, pen and ink changes in place of submission of a formal amendment per 33CFR104.415, 105.415, and 10.415 (sic) are authorized until the plan is next revised and submitted for review.”
Flexible Response

It is nice to see a regulatory agency exercising this type of flexibility in response to changes in the regulatory environment. Of course, the Coast Guard is also a military organization and the military has always favored this kind of response to changing conditions, allowing local commanders to respond to changing situations while the bureaucratic processes catch up. This is why the MSIB comes from the Captain of the Port rather than the Commandant.

It is extremely unlikely that ISCD, under any Director, would ever provide that sort of command flexibility to their Regional commanders of the CFATS inspection force. It doesn’t have the long history, tradition and training that the Coast Guard has that provides the institution the ability to allow such responsiveness.

In the mean time, CFATS facilities are going to have to try to figure out what to do with their site security plans. Do they address the current RBPS 13 guidance on enhanced security with an adaptation for the NTAS similar to what I wrote in my RBPS 13 revision blog? Or do they take the risk that DHS and their chemical security inspectors will not accept references to the NTAS because it isn’t mentioned in the Guidance document?

I think that CFATS facilities can count on the intelligence of the inspectors to understand that security requires some measure of flexibility. If they can’t, we have bigger problems than can be solved by a document revision. Besides, DHS is required by Congress to allow individual facilities a certain measure of flexibility in determining what security measures are used to secure the facilities.

1 comment:

John C. W. Bennett said...


Many thanks to you and your reader for revealing this Coast Guard policy. It turns out that the MSIB you’re quoting is a reworking by USCG Sector New Orleans of a Coast Guard HQ (Office of Port and Facility Activities) message (available at that provided policy “for consistent nationwide administration of MARSEC Levels.” So the provisions you discussed will apply everywhere, not just in the New Orleans area. In turn, that message from HQ references an earlier ALCOAST message (which was not released to the internet) that, at a minimum, included the provision on the Commandant’s response to an NTAS Alert. We are fortunate that COTP New Orleans issued the MSIB, otherwise how would we have known about the policy? (To my knowledge, Sector Baltimore was the only other USCG unit to post anything about this issue on its page in Homeport.)

If anyone still wants to see the New Orleans MSIB, they’ll have to wade down a lengthy path into the bowels of Homeport (, because links on Homeport are not persistent: Select “Port Directory” in the gray horizontal bar at the top, then pick “New Orleans” from the pull-down menu in "Select Coast Guard Unit." When that comes up, scroll down to "Facility Inspections" on the left, click on “Marine Safety Information Bulletins (MSIB),” and select “MSIB 36 National Terrorism Advisory System” from "Supporting Documents" on the right.



/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */