The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals are presented annually by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to celebrate excellence in our federal civil service. The Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal recognizes a federal employee for a significant contribution to the nation in activities related to homeland security and law enforcement, including border and transportation security, civil rights, counterterrorism, emergency response, fraud prevention and intelligence. Today, our nation’s public servants are confronting and overcoming challenges of great importance to the American people. Whether securing our borders, ensuring the safety of the products we buy and the food we eat, protecting our environment or caring for our veterans and most vulnerable citizens, government employees are dedicated to serving others and making a difference.
The Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks revealed vulnerabilities not just in aviation security, but in all modes of transportation, including the shipping ports that handle more than 90 percent of the nation’s imported goods.
In the absence of a comprehensive plan to protect harbor facilities, Anthony Regalbuto, the chief of the Office of International and Domestic Port Security, set up and began to run an ambitious and sophisticated program to address many of the major port security weaknesses in the United States and assist foreign nations in adopting new anti-terrorism measures.
In the past three years alone, Regalbuto has managed hundreds of domestic and foreign assessments of critical domestic and international maritime facilities and infrastructure, helping these ports guard against potential terror attacks, protect the public and ensure the smooth flow of international trade.
“He’s our port security czar,” said Capt. Mikeal Staier, chief of the Coast Guard’s domestic port security evaluations.
“When they talk about securing our borders, it begins overseas and at our ports,” Staier said. “Tony started all that. He was the impetus for getting that off the ground.”
The risks at ports are numerous. Someone could tamper with a shipping container, leave something dangerous on a dock, hop aboard a U.S.-bound vessel with intent to do harm or smuggle in a weapon of mass destruction.
Regalbuto determines whether countries are following international requirements for port security and access control and works with them to make improvements. On the domestic side, he has analyzed security risks at the local, regional and national levels and pushed for changes.
“It’s a daunting, overwhelming task when you look at the U.S. from a security standpoint and how to make sense of that,” said Mike Brown, who works on the Coast Guard’s international security evaluations.
The security precautions at the ports are just part of a layered approach taken by the Coast Guard, one that includes vessel and cargo screening protocols, enforcing notice of arrival requirements and leveraging intelligence and information resources from across the government.
The Maritime Security Risk Analysis Model, which Regalbuto helped develop for evaluations, has been used by the Coast Guard to analyze more than 30,000 potential targets and 100,000 attack scenarios nationwide. It gauges three components: the threat of attack, the vulnerability of the target and the consequences of a successful attack. For instance, it looks at whether a particular port facility is handling dangerous cargos, what damage a fire or explosion might do and how many people’s lives might be at risk.
Since 2002 the data from this risk analysis model has been used to distribute more than $2.7 billion in grants for port security, directing investments to where they would have the biggest impact on strengthening security and driving down risks.
Of course, tradeoffs have to be made when weighing costs and benefits. With his broad experience and knowledge, Regalbuto has been successful at building consensus on how to make intelligent choices, according to Brown.
“He’s been very, very good at that, helping inform those decisions,” he said. “He has the vision on the domestic side to sort out many targets so it’s manageable and make effective and efficient use of resources.”
On the international front, Regalbuto realized that some foreign countries needed legislation in order to move ahead with safeguarding their ports, so he had a model code drafted to build their capacity. Many countries want to meet the basic requirements so the U.S. will not hold up ships by imposing conditions of entry on a vessel. These conditions typically lead to costly delays, and ships could end up bypassing those ports, causing economic harm.
The model code provides guidelines that nations can use to strengthen deficiencies in their legal systems so they can enhance port security and do business with the United States more easily. He hopes the United Nations body responsible for maritime safety will also adopt it, according to Brown.
“It was his idea,” Brown said. “He’s the one who identified the problem and sought and reprioritized resources within the Coast Guard’s international program to have this model code, these guidelines drafted.”
Capt. Jonathan Burton, director of Coast Guard Inspections and Compliance, said part of Regalbuto’s success is that he is “a great people manager and a great process manager.” He is extremely good at international diplomacy, while also managing the domestic side and a diverse set of employees, both military and civilian, Burton said.
Staier added Regalbuto has “changed the landscape for all of us because we have grown to know where the vulnerabilities are, where the risks are and where we need to spend our money.”
“It’s really just a testament to Tony’s vision and leadership in the port security world,” he said.