Nations, agencies unite to protect our shared border

The information display at the new Operational Integration Center as displayed to a tour given to distinguished visitors, March 24, 2011. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener).

Thinking of the Great Lakes as merely “lakes” belies their complexity and downplays the unique threats and challenges facing the U.S. and Canadian agencies who share transportation systems and governance along the 1,500 miles of maritime border here.

“To enhance shared border security in a region with vast stretches of open water and narrow choke points along interconnecting river systems, there is a premium on integrated operations and effective partnerships,” said Rear Adm. Michael Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, which has operational responsibilities throughout the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. “The high volume of traffic and jurisdictional complexity demands robust detection and sorting capabilities, so potential threats and high-risk traffic can be identified and addressed.”

To help with that effort, Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, the vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard,
and Mr. David V. Aguilar, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, presided over a ceremony dedicating the region’s first Operational Integration Center at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Detroit, today.

Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, along with representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and U.S. Border Patrol, tours the new Operational Integration Center March 24, 2011. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener).

The OIC is a binational, multi-agency, around-the-clock operations center that provides a collaborative work area and communications capabilities for representatives of all components of Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard and other Department of Homeland Security organizations, federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and Canadian counterparts.

Joining Brice-O’Hara and Aguilar in the ribbon-cutting ceremony were: Brig. Gen. Michael Peplinski, U.S. Air Force; Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Rep. Candice Miller, R-10-Mich.; Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-13-Mich. and Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder.

During her remarks to the standing-room-only crowd, Brice-O’Hara said “mission success begins with information. We embrace the opportunity to take these existing partnerships to new levels with the Operational Integration Center.”

“This facility is going to take the capacities and abilities of all the involved agencies and integrate them under one roof,” said Aguilar.

“We have two borders in this country,” said Miller. “I think the northern border faces many unique challenges.”

“Today we are here to open our next approach in layered initiative toward border security.”

The OIC is built on the premise that by coordinating, collaborating and integrating the various organizations whose missions involve border security and public safety, it leverages and adds to existing resources, information and technology to increase the effectiveness in securing the shared border.

The OIC also gives watchstanders the ability to share intelligence. Collaborating through the use of a Common Situational Display (CSD) allows watchstanders the ability to develop a better intelligence picture within the area of operations of the OIC.

Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, (center) and other distinguished guests, cut a ribbon officially opening the new Operational Integration Center, March 24, 2011. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener).

“Safety and security of the Great Lakes is everyone’s responsibility,” said Parks. “This OIC will help watchstanders successfully prepare for, respond to, and resolve potential threats in order that we meet that responsibility together.”