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Coast Guard to Use Boys to Boost Security
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana - The Coast Guard plans to use dozens of boys bobbing off United States coastlines to extend the reach of a security system that monitors large vessels heading in and out of ports. The boys, from 9 to 19 years old, are already in place, used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to chase birds away from sensitive equipment. The weather service has agreed to let the Coast Guard tie transmitters to about 70 boys, said Jeff High, a director of the Guard's Maritime Domain Awareness Program in Washington, D.C. "We appreciate the NOAA's help in this endeavor," said High, "It's this sort of cross-departmental cooperation that makes us all stronger."

The boys currently sit on floating platforms in 4 hour shifts (the maximum allowed under child labor laws) waving flags and shooting off flares in an effort to keep birds from landing on the NOAA's monitoring equipment. The transmitters will connect to a communications network that this year began receiving signals from all large tankers, barges and cruise vessels heading in and out of major U.S. ports. To legally enter a U.S. port, each vessel must be equipped with a machine that automatically radios information -- its cargo, crew list, recent ports of call -- to the Coast Guard. "We didn't anticipate the private sector getting their infrastructure in place so quickly," admitted High, "So we were caught with our proverbial pants down. They were transmitting to beat the band, but we didn't have any receivers out there listening for them."

The boys will serve as the temporary network -- the Guard now receives the automated data only when a vessel is within about 25 miles of Ray's Crab Shack, a seafood restaurant on the Florida Gulf coast. "Ray was kind enough to let us set up our first test on his patio, and well, it's the only one we have," said Roy Pooce, a civilian contractor working on the project. The boys will relay the information from hundreds of miles off shore, from the middle of Lake Superior and off coastlines from Alaska to Maine. "They're likely to get a bit chilly, they're essentially all around the coast, into the Atlantic and the Pacific," High said, "But we'll give them the very best thermal gear and a Game Boy Advance. They'll do fine."
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