The news of Osama bin Laden releasing another message to the world media is disconcerting consciously and/or subconsciously for most Americans on a range of levels.
When terrorism gets put back on the front pages of the newspapers, citizens feel the latent violence that looms in this brand of extreme devoutness and psychotic zealotry.
For recreational and commercial boaters who often traverse the local waters, and for those who frequent the coastline, these matters are of a particular interest.
Since the Pacific Ocean is a wide expanse that is difficult for authorities to monitor, it can be a gateway for those with bad intentions.
While the ocean represents calmness and balance, sadly, it can also exist as a staging ground for conspiracy.
After the events of 9/11, the United States military and specifically the Coast Guard began to address the many points of access and potential penetration.
They began to formulate prudent means by which to oversee the waterways more assiduously and develop abilities to keep track of this unique territory.
One of the methods the Coast Guard created was the America’s Waterway Watch Program.
Almost one year ago, it officially announced the program as a national effort for recreational and commercial boaters as well as persons who frequent coastline areas to keep a watch for suspicious activities or behavior in and around the waters of the nation.
Prior to that, the program was active on a state level in a variety of areas, but was not unified into one national program.
“[After 9/11] a lot of the various commands from around the country felt that there was a need for awareness for the boating public and to provide some guidance for someone that might happen to see something suspicious out on the waterway,” explains Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Penny Collins.
“There’s more than 95,000 miles of shoreline in the United States and approximately 300,000 square miles of water,” said Collins. “The first responder, which is the Coast Guard, obviously, can’t accommodate all that.
“There are 70 million boaters, give or take — that’s a lot of people. It’s a lot of area to cover, so that’s why we’re doing outreach.”
The Coast Guard joined forces with the U.S. Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliary and/or Reservists in the substantial effort of communicating with the boating public on how to react in the event of witnessing something suspicious while out on the waterways.
Through brochures, stickers, pamphlets and their Web site, the message is to be alert to something that appears to be out of the ordinary and to act as a spotter, not an officer.
On the Web site, there is detailed information on what is reasonably considered “out of the ordinary.”
But once it is determined that something is amiss, the appropriate next step is to make a call.
“We would like them to do one of two things, said Collins of what boaters are expected to do. “Either report it to your local law enforcement by calling 911 (if it’s something that looks imminently dangerous) or call the National Response Center, which is an entity here at Coast Guard headquarters.”
The numbers for the National Response Center are (877) 249-2824 (877-24WATCH) or (800) 424-8802.
Since the beginning of the program, there have been many calls into the system, but only one actual apprehension of a criminal.
“Although calls about suspicious activities, etc., come into the national response center and we get reports on the number and types of calls, we’ve only had one incident where there was a person of some interest to law enforcement,” recalled Collins. “That was in Florida in 2004.
“That was the only incident that I know of where a captain of a pleasure boat saw a person who was acting suspicious and he picked up the phone and called law enforcement. They questioned the guy and ultimately the FBI arrested him.”
Collins is happy that there has been only one arrest related to the program because her hope is that as the program becomes prominent and successful, criminals will be more reluctant to transgress.
“As first responders, we don’t have all the ‘people power’ we need to [keep such a large watch], we need as many organizations as possible that can help us get the word out. It then becomes a domino effect.”
For more information about America’s Waterway Watch and what to do in the event of an unusual circumstance that might be related to something potentially suspicious, log onto