User Job: Surveillance

Once we understand that Maritime Situational Awareness covers an understanding of everything connected to security, safety, economy, or environment at sea, we realize that the first step in gaining this understanding is the collection and processing of tracking information on vessel movements and actions using various sensors and methods. This collection of information is the first job that our users carry out - surveillance.

Surveillance, in of itself, is not a goal, but rather a tool in the process of achieving Maritime Situational Awareness and understanding what is happening in a certain area - over time and ongoing. The information generated through surveillance is later used by various stakeholders in the organization for targeting, investigating and monitoring. As such, surveillance as a technical job is merely an enabler for conducting other jobs. Often the responsibility of maritime surveillance in national waters falls in the hands of one or two organizations that are responsible for a setting up and maintain a national network of sensors, and they provide information to other organizations as needed.

The aim of surveillance is to collect as much data about vessels as possible. The most basic level of surveillance is detection - the ability to detect an object at sea, without the ability to say anything about what type of vessel it is, its size or its identity (an unknown target). The next level is classification; a vessel that has been detected is classified, its type now known, such as a fishing vessel (still unknown fishing vessel). The highest level of surveillance, identification, provides the identity of the vessel (vessel name). Ideally, organizations want to detect and identify every vessel operating in a certain area of interest, either continuously (e.g., if they have control or search and rescue responsibilities in that area) or ad-hoc (e.g., if there is specific information about an area or incident, or if they are planning an operation).

Maritime Surveillance uses a variety of sensors to collect data; radar, LRIT, coastal and satellite AIS, VMS, patrol vessels, cameras, UAVs, etc. Each of the sensors has advantages and drawbacks when it comes to coverage – differing distance from shore, latency, update rate, recording capability, quality of manpower needed, etc. - all have some coverage gaps. Therefore, organizations seek to optimize their coverage by integrating new and improved sensors, which is financially costly, resource-intensive and may compromise their operations.

Given the high costs involved in surveillance, there are always compromises based on priorities versus available resources. Agencies may limit surveillance to narrow areas, limit their duration, focus only on ad-hoc missions, or vessels only larger than a certain size (for AIS, over 300 GT), compromise on the update rate (as a result of satellite passes), etc.  Every agency will prioritize their choice of sensors based on their budget and according to their national needs. Furthermore, these sensors are oriented to real/near-real time, and have almost no ability to record and store historical information. Whether the sensor provides persistent surveillance – always on – or ad hoc surveillance, users have only real time information. Therefore, extracting historical data is limited and complicated, extremely labor-intensive and time consuming, and far from sufficient in the quest for Situational Awareness.

Finally, looking at surveillance as an enabler for Situational Awareness, the most critical gap is that surveillance provides mostly information on ‘who is where’, while situational awareness is more about ‘who is doing what’ and eventually understanding ‘why’. This information gap requires extensive manual work by skilled analysts, who then also must prioritize by choosing what to focus on such as vessels of interest, areas of interest, vessels flying a certain flag, only analysis of real-time activities, etc.

Given the limitations of surveillance measures, upon which further actions are based, targeting, investigation and monitoring are commonly done on a basic level and on a limited scale and scope.

Job Story

Job stories are constructed as following:

The Surveillance Job Story

When I want to know what is happening in an area of interest at sea, I want to be able to detect every vessel in that area, along with what it has been doing, so I can provide stakeholders with information about things that can impact security, safety, economy or environment.

Motivation: …. to be able to detect every vessel in that area, along with what it has been doing, I need to ….

  1. Minimize latency of target data updates
  2. Minimize number of undetected targets
  3. Increase update rate for targets
  4. Increase amount of positional information on targets
  5. Increase amount of identification information on targets
  6. Minimize time to collect information on a target
  7. Minimize ‘dark time’ for targets
  8. Minimize % of ‘dark spots’ (areas uncovered)
  9. Increase level of coverage in a certain area
  10. Minimize costs – financial, human effort and risks
  11. Increase accuracy of targets’ current and past positions
  12. Minimize false detection and identification


A Day in the Life of a Surveillance Unit

The unit responsible for surveillance focuses on two streams of work - persistent surveillance and ad-hoc surveillance. The unit has the technical people in charge of the sensors themselves and the IT workers needed to turn the data collected into a Common Operational Picture (COP), feeding a Command and Control system. Operators who analyze the data may also be part of the surveillance unit, or they may belong to Control or Intelligence units. On a more strategic level, it is their responsibility to locate and acquire new sensors to be integrated into their network, based on operational requirements and risk profiles.

For persistent surveillance, their job is to ensure, daily, that all existing sensors are maintained and active, that the data created is received by the system operators, and that the operators are skilled in processing and interpreting the data. If any problems arise with existing sensors, they are expected to ensure a quick resolution, while communicating to relevant decision makers any issues with the problematic sensors.

For ad-hoc surveillance, their job is to make recommendations about routine deployments, based on the situational awareness needs defined by decision makers. For example, during the fishing season they may recommend sending more patrol vessels to the fishing grounds, or to send out the patrols more often, or upon receiving intelligence about human trafficking near a certain island, they may recommend sending aircraft to scan the area for perpetrators.

In addition, it is their responsibility to deploy assets for ad-hoc needs, such as search and rescue, operations or illegal fishing. Ad-hoc surveillance can also be carried out on board vessels, with dedicated on-board operators fusing targets and building the common operational picture around the vessel.

The WINDWARD INTELLIGENCE Value to Surveillance

Windward Intelligence provides reliable, persistent, global surveillance, using various data sources to display not only where vessels are, but what activities are being carried out by vessels, such as ship-to-ship, stops, and suspicious time gaps. The system automatically collects, analyzes and records the data about vessel activities everywhere, all the time, so historical data is now always available to search by Windward Intelligence users.

For organizations, which are not maritime-oriented (e.g., intelligence agencies) the system also provides independence as now they have independent access to high quality information. On a national level, Windward Intelligence can also serve as an unclassified, shareable platform.

Windward Intelligence has raised the bar to include data that has not been previously available to organizations. This is a cost-effective, affordable, risk-free data which changes the way analysts can interact with the data, providing unmatched levels of situational awareness.

To check your understanding, answer the questions here. The answer key can be found here.