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Global Maritime Domain Awareness

2008 Winner
United States Department of Transportation

Award Sponsor
Innovations in American Government Awards

U.S. Naval Forces Europe Commander Admiral Harry Ulrich brooded over the state of worldwide maritime awareness. It was 2005, yet despite the post-9/11 securities overhaul, global vessel traffic monitoring systems remained poor—capable of tracking only a handful of commercial vessels at a time. Understanding that efficient, safe, and secure maritime transportation is central to ensuring unimpeded trade and well as to safeguarding the United States from foreign threats, Admiral Ulrich challenged the Volpe Center—a component initiative of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration—to develop the technology to track vessel movement on the seas much more effectively.

Responding equally to the clear need and to Admiral Ulrich's appeal, Volpe Center staff built the Maritime Security and Safety Information System (MSSIS), an electronic repository of global traffic monitoring data amassed through the receipt of signals from: a) Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders required on board commercial ships above a certain size, and designed to reduce collisions at sea; and, b) shoreside receivers positioned to collect AIS broadcasts. But, MSSIS is significant not only because of its effectiveness as a global traffic monitoring network, but because of the manner in which it was created and how it was applied. MSSIS is an outgrowth of two systems that were already in place—Transview, a real-time tracking and navigation system built for Panama Canal pilots; and, the Automatic Identification System, a vessel communications network operating on the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Building upon existing programs allowed Volpe Center staff to disprove industry experts who predicted that building a vessel traffic monitoring program would take years and would cost hundred of millions of dollars; MSSIS was built at low-cost in just one year. The existence of MSSIS, and the unclassified nature of the technology, also brought about an enhanced level of cooperation and trust among participating nations that work together to provide vessel monitoring data, cumulatively tracking tens of thousands of vessels in real-time. As of late 2007, over 30 nations participate in the MSSIS maritime data network.

Although the program remains in the early stages of development, the MSSIS system is poised to contribute significantly to efforts to combat piracy, terrorism, and smuggling (of humans, drugs, and weapons). In addition, it will help foster global economic stability by ensuring the secure global transfer of goods. The success of the MSSIS program is also increasingly regarding as a catalyst for promoting a greater willingness among nations to share resources and information in multilateral, unclassified exchange, and to participate in joint missions in order to enhance regional and global security.

Contact Information
Mr. David A. Phinney
Operations Research
Marine Systems,
USDOT / RITA / Volpe
55 Broadway Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
Phone: 617-494-2149

Visionaries: 2008 Innovations in American Government Award Winners

Learn how the winners of the 2008 Innovations in American Government Awards are improving the lives of citizens through this public television documentary series, Visionaries. From improving the safety of international seaways to better preparing the next generation of high school graduates for the global economy, the 2008 Awards honor the best in government innovation at the federal, state, and city levels. The Innovations in American Government Awards is administered by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School.

Global Maritime Domain Awareness: Innovator's Focus

The United States Department of Transportation's Maritime Safety and Security Information System is a novel, low cost, and rapidly deployed, global vessel traffic monitoring system used to enhance Global Maritime Domain Awareness. The program is a 2008 Innovations in American Government Award winner.

2008 Innovations in American Government Awards: Presentations by Finalists (Part 1)

On June 12, 2008, the finalists competing for the 2008 Innovations in American Government Awards presented before the National Selection Committee, chaired by David Gergen. In this video, finalists include the following government programs:

  • Intelligence Community Civilian Joint Duty Program from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  • Learn and Earn, North Carolina
  • Global Maritime Domain Awareness, US Department of Transportation
  • Fresh Food Financing Initiative, Pennsylvania
  • Youth Leadership Advisory Team, Maine


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