Perspectives on Security Concerns Reflected in the Inland River

Presented at the National Homeland Security Conference
Columbus, OH – May 22-24, 2012
Deirdre McGowan, Ph.D., Inland Rivers Ports & Terminals, Inc. PSGP
Fiduciary Agent USCG Sectors Southern Tip of Lake Michigan & Lower
Mississippi River
Capt. John J. Marks, (USCG Retired) Sub-Contractor to the Fiduciary Agent
Map of Inland System
Marad Cargo Capacity
High / Low water
Bridge collapse
Lock Failure
A barge needs a certain amount of water in order to float and not
touch bottom. A vessel’s water depth is called the “draft”. The
more cargo a barge carries, the more it will weigh, meaning it will
displace more water and require more draft. The draft (or
draught) of a ship’s hull is the vertical distance between the
waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel), with the thickness of
the hull included. Even a slight decrease in the depth of a
waterway will require a barge to reduce the amount of cargo it is
carrying. On the flip side, more water means more cargo. This,
in turn, translates into fewer trips being needed to transport
A prolonged period of below normal rainfall that began after the
January 2005 drought brought river elevations to some of their lowest
levels in recent years. Both the Mississippi and Lower Ohio Rivers
were low enough to affect river transportation.
A barge passes by sandbars in the Ohio River near Paducah, KY in
mid-August. Photo taken from Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis,
Illinois. The Interstate 24 bridge is visible.
High water brings another, unique set of challenges.
Pictured below, the towboat “Jock” pushes a load of barges
containing light cycle oil, in the Mississippi River,
underneath the bridge connecting Natchez, MS to Vidalia,
LA, May 21, 2011.
Disruption of the supply-chain can have far-reaching
implications, both economic and security. When that chain
was interrupted in Japan in 2011 by the combination of the
earthquake and the tsunami, it interrupted not only
manufacturing in that country it also interrupted needed
supplies for manufacturing of automobiles,
telecommunications and consumer electronics in the United
States. The inland river system transports major components
of our nation’s supply chain.
We can’t afford a shut-down of the inland
There are more than 600,000 bridges in the United States
that are 20 feet long or longer, some over a century old
and many of them national iconic monuments. Research is
underway to determine how materials, connection details
and designs in aging bridges react to IEDs, other
explosives, kinetic impact, intense fires and other
This bridge collapsed in 13 seconds
Some sections of the Mississippi River appeared to run backward
for a short time. Sand blows were common throughout the area,
and can still be seen from the air in cultivated fields. The shock
waves propagated efficiently through the firm Midwestern bedrock,
and were felt by residents as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
Norfolk, Virginia, Boston, and Toronto. Sidewalks were reported to
have been cracked and broken in Washington, D.C.
“It was what we call a thrust fault. And it came up to the surface
beneath the river and actually created a stair step in the river
bottom to where it set up waves that went coursing back
upstream,” says Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey in
Pasadena, Calif. She says much of what we know about those early
quakes comes from firsthand accounts, like one from future
president Zachary Taylor. He felt the shaking 230 miles away in
A study by the Texas Transportation Institute
determined that when a lock closes, transport costs
escalate $1.50 per ton per lock. When Greenup
(mile marker 341 on the Ohio) closed for 52 days, it
cost $42 million, and that was with an operational
auxiliary lock. When McAlpine (mile marker 606
on the Ohio) closed for 11 days, the cost was
estimated at $6.3 million. On the Ohio, the time
locks have been out of service to make emergency
repairs has increased from 25,000 hours per year to
80,000 hours per year since 2000.

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