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WSF will craft own security protocol

Washington State Ferries could receive the green light to move ahead with crafting a local maritime security plan under a Congressional bill President Bush could approve in the coming days.

Called the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the legislation essentially provides a two-tiered approach to securing the nation’s seaports, said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island.

One tier is national, the other local.

“The Coast Guard will be tasked with adopting national rules for what is needed for port security,” Inslee said. “The bill also allows for individual operators which, in our case, means (WSF), to adopt their own security plans.”

The legislation, which was unanimously approved on Nov. 14 by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, encourages local input in planning for security aboard Washington State Ferries.

Inslee said the bill was the culmination of work performed over the last few months, although independently from a set of strict guidelines proposed by the Cost Guard.

Those guidelines, made public last month, called for screening ferry passengers, cars and luggage — all measures that could bog down ferry traffic, cause scheduling problems and dips in ridership, according to lawmakers.

“We want to make sure that security measures don’t interrupt our commute to work,” Inslee said. “We must put together plans that both provide needed security and maintain efficient service to ferry commuters. I think we can have our cake and eat it too.”

According to the legislation, the Coast Guard will be tasked with crafting a national protocol to guide the country’s seaports. Within six months of the completion of those guidelines, WSF would be tasked with proposing a set of ferry security guidelines that consider the practical need to commute, and security in general.

The local plan, which is to coincide with the national protocol, would be presented to the Coast Guard for consideration.

By Monday afternoon, it was still unclear whether the national guidelines could coincide with the recommendations the Coast Guard already announced.

“The important part of the bill calls for individualized plans to be developed by operators, and that is key,” Inslee said. “That way, the concerns of commuters and users can be taken into consideration.”

Inslee said that, in implementing security improvements, significant local involvement is necessary for the success of the program.

“We should have the ability to tell the Coast Guard what our desires are and still come up with a plan that doesn’t give potential terrorists a road map,” he said.

Although local officials and ferry commuters will have hand in developing new ferry security regulations, much of the plan will be kept confidential.

According to the legislation, the local security plan is expected to identify a person who has authority to implement security actions and requires that contact to communicate with federal officials about establishing and maintaining physical security, controlling access to secure areas aboard the vessels and deterring transportation security incidents and threats.

Training and unannounced drills would also be carried out under the plan, which is to be updated at least every five years under the legislation.

The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security would review the plans, ask for any changes and approve them.

Ferries won’t be allowed to operated after one year if a plan has not been approved and implemented, but Inslee said that won’t happen.

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