Maritime Homeland Security and the Role of Area Maritime Security Committees

Ben Crowell


Throughout the history of the United States, the country has been highly dependent upon the safe and secure transportation of goods and services on the world’s oceans. As the shipping industry and the sophistication of national and international laws have developed, the complexity and challenges of maritime security have grown. Traditionally, the concept of maritime security has referred to the military actions that nations take to secure critical sea lines of communication against interference from other military or sub-national groups. Today, maritime security involves the military, police, legislative, and policy actions that nations take domestically and internationally to ensure the safety and security of the maritime domain.[1] These tools of government are used to combat six threats that the United Nations has identified as the most significant security concerns to the maritime domain: the trafficking of persons, drugs, and weapons; maritime terrorism; crime; and piracy.[2] The U.S. Coast Guard also identifies cybersecurity, active shooters, and the emergence of drones as threats. To address these issues, the maritime homeland security enterprise has evolved into a series of overlapping authorities and jurisdictions with each layer of government employing their legal and operational tools to tackle these challenges.

When evaluating these threats to the United States, maritime crime, terrorism, smuggling, and cybersecurity are the most pressing issues facing the maritime homeland security enterprise. To address these challenges following the attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, which created regional Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSCs) led by the Coast Guard’s Captain of the Port, who is designated as the federal maritime security coordinator.[3] AMSCs are voluntary, public–private partnerships composed of representatives from the security sector and private industry such as police, fire, maritime industry, labor, and academia.[4] The purpose of AMSCs is to identify natural and manmade threats to the maritime transportation system and build and exercise response plans to counter these challenges. Interestingly, there is very little academic research or evaluation of their effectiveness. To evaluate the impact of AMSCs, this thesis posed two research questions: 1) What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats surrounding AMSCs and the maritime homeland security environment? 2) How can AMSCs prioritize their efforts and improve the quality of their collaboration to achieve clear benchmarks of success? To answer these research questions, a two-round Delphi survey was administered to 24 maritime homeland security professionals across the five COTP zones along the West Coast of the United States. The data collected were then cross-referenced with the 2016 and 2017 annual reports for AMSCs.

The survey identified the strengths of AMSCs as networked collaboration and information sharing; the weaknesses included the geographic distance between port facilities, bureaucracy, and personnel turnover within the Coast Guard’s leadership. The opportunities include improving information sharing, and the threats to effectiveness were a lack of participation from outlying ports, collaboration, and geography. Given that collaboration across disparate homeland security professionals is crucial for AMSC effectiveness, the inter-organizational collaboration capacity (ICC) model was selected to target opportunities for improvement. This model was chosen because of its simplicity and clarity—with five domains and 13 sub-factors that break down the means to enhance interagency performance. Following the application of the ICC model, several recommendations emerged for ways to improve the effectiveness of the committees: increase funding, remove the prohibition of funding for travel of committee members, develop a uniform method of recruiting and training new members, and build performance metrics for AMSCs. At the national level, many AMSCs face similar security threats. These issues should be identified as key security concerns with performance milestones attached to threat reduction.

In summary, there is room for organizational improvement within the AMSC construct. Nevertheless, by conducting threat assessments and exercises with multiple organizations, AMSCs provide great value to the homeland security enterprise. These networked relationships and connections are the true strength of these partnerships, and AMSCs continue to build the security infrastructure surrounding the maritime transportation system.



[1] Natalie Klein, Maritime Security and the Law of the Sea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 2.

[2] United Nations General Assembly, Addendum to Oceans and the Law of the Sea: Report of the Secretary-General, A/72/70 (New York: United Nations, September 6, 2017), 8,

[3] Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-295, 116 Stat. 2064 (2002),

[4] Maritime Security: Area Maritime Security, 33 C.F.R. § 103 (2010),

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