For Coast Guard, Practice Makes Perfect

November 22, 2006
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The Michigan Homeland Security Initiative has deep roots in West Michigan. The statewide coalition groups cybersecurity, technology companies and businesses and campus security with those of defense and military application. It is an economic development initiative for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. But most importantly, the coalition members note the overwhelming majority of homeland security infrastructure is in private hands. That "infrastructure" is businesses, and business has the most to lose in any subterfuge, attack or attempted attack, as is obvious by the World Trade Center and the number of businesses once housed therein. The U.S. Coast Guard has responsibility to protect the borders of this state, its shores and the businesses herein.

U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra last week made public his letter to the Coast Guard regarding its plan to begin live-fire training exercises on the Great Lakes. The Congressman suggested consolidating the proposed 34 zones, using "alternatives" to lead-based bullets, and establishing parameters so no drills are scheduled between May 15 and Sept. 15, thereby protecting recreational boaters and commercial operations such as the Muskegon Lake Express Ferry from unintentional consequences. Hoekstra also suggested a strategy of notifying communities and commercial enterprises of drills are scheduled.

Hoekstra should be applauded for taking his constituents' concerns to the federal agency, but the latter part of his recommendations is likely at odds with the reason for such drills in the first place. He notes in his opening comments that establishing the drills is the result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He further notes that the Coast Guard had to fly in Port Security teams to provide security on the Detroit River during the Super Bowl "because nobody was certified locally to man the guns." Hoekstra writes of further concern in regard to the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Renaissance Center in Detroit. One has to ask whether his recommendation for notification of training exercises would compromise security.

While some recreational businesses have howled about the Coast Guard activity and its potential interruption to business, we think it is important to consider the potential losses and catastrophic consequences if the "Coasties" are not adequately prepared to save those businesses and hundreds of others.

Thomas Hines, president and CEO of SecureMatrix and a member of the Michigan Homeland Security coalition, in August noted in the Business Journal that nearly all of the country's utility infrastructure from oil wells to cellular towers are privately owned and operated, the entire Internet backbone is privately held, and the Louisiana Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center were operated by the same private company running the Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place.

Grand Rapids Business Journal looks forward to some compromise in the matter of live-fire training, but holds the mission of the Coast Guard as overridingly important.    

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