From a small room in a Pakistan house, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was shaken to its core in 2011.
Within the data seized from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound was the al Qaeda plan to blow up oil tankers in U.S. waters to create an “extreme economic crisis.“
Protecting tankers at home is what the USCG does, and faced with a fixed amount of resources and a growing threat, it got innovative.
The service looked to game theorists — mathematicians who specialize in a unique brand of numerical models — to help the Coast Guard do more with less.
The result was the Port Resilience Operational / Tactical Enforcement to Combat Terrorism (PROTECT) Model. PROTECT is the real reason millions of New Yorkers feel safe riding the Staten Island Ferry each year.
It is why cruise line passengers never have to worry about their ship going down in a fiery wad of metal and overpriced booze, the target of a terrorist strike no one saw coming.
We spent the day with Coast Guard Sector New York as they patrolled the ferries, ships, and the sensitive infrastructure around the city of New York to understand just how it all works.
This is what we saw.
In order to appreciate what a beautiful target a Staten Island Ferry actually is, it helps to think like a terrorist.
Sinking just one could put up to 4,500 people into the waters of New York Harbor, and undermine the entire city's sense of security.
That sense of security comes from 75,000 people a day, and 21 million people a year riding the ferry with little to no incident.
It may seem too big a task for a small group of boats, but some brilliant mathematicians strongly disagree.
The game theory application created for the Coast Guard's port security is so well respected the team behind it received a Wagner Prize in April 2013.
It is also impossible to make its patrols without being seen by enemy operatives. These aren't enemy operatives, only onlookers.
And the captain of one of the fastest trimaran's in the world can pause safely in a round-the-world trek.
So the next time you're pulling into port on a Staten Island Ferry, remember the Coast Guard was right there with you on the whole trip ...
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