Here's How The US Coast Guard Uses Game Theory To Protect New York City [PHOTOS]

NY Coast Guard 48

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.

The largest ferry carries more passengers than the newest and biggest cruise ships.

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.

So thinking about the unthinkable isn't really on the top of the mind for sea-going travellers.

But it is the Coast Guard's job to think of nothing else.

And with just a handful of boats they manage to safeguard all ferries and ship traffic ...

... and key infrastructure that could grind New York to a halt were they ever attacked.

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.

The idea is pretty simple.

The Coast Guard can't be in all places at one time.

It is also impossible to make its patrols without being seen by enemy operatives. These aren't enemy operatives, only onlookers.

Which is a fancy way of saying that the random team on a ferry here ...

... armed with weapons and radioactivity detectors ...

... work along with night patrols ...

... on a Coast Guard cutter like this ...

... or a patrol boat like this ...

... along with the pilot of every craft on patrol ...

... to create a string of numbers based on several immediate factors.

Those numbers get included in the algorithm that tells the patrols where each tour will take them.

Patrols are still armed with an M240B machine gun ...

... M-16 rifles ...

The mathematically-driven patrol schedule ensures that just because there's a patrol here ...

... no ferry captain will want for security and fear for his thousands of passengers.

And the captain of one of the fastest trimaran's in the world can pause safely in a round-the-world trek.

The Coast Guard patrols can ensure this security without overlapping on stops ...

... or skipping a key stop ...

... or calling on other agencies like the NYPD to help with its mission.

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 ...

... one way or the other.

Day and night.

So just enjoy the view.

That's how the Coast Guard patrols the water around New York

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