CCICADA and CREATE Launch the MCAT Project: Modeling the Impact of Complex, Multi-Vector Disruptions to the Marine Transportation System

The Marine Transportation System (MTS) is a vital part of the nation’s supply chain. The vast majority of U.S. overseas trade is carried by the MTS, and this, in turn, plays a major role in the nation’s GDP and overall prosperity. An efficient MTS reduces congestion in ports, railways, and roadways, reduces costs to consumers and business owners, and promotes homeland and national security. But anyone reading the news nowadays will conclude that the MTS is anything but efficient.

Ships waiting outside at the port of Los Angeles.
Source: Wikimedia commons

While the MTS has proven resilience for single disruptions, the impact of multiple disruptions can overwhelm it. The MTS is a major component of the global supply chain which is currently experiencing significant disruptions driven by multiple sources from COVID to consumer behavior. Encountering a new disruption such as the blockage of a major waterway like the Suez Canal in the context of another disruption such as a global pandemic or a shortage of truck drivers or dramatic increases in consumer demand makes for a complex situation that is much more difficult to understand than any disruption occurring alone.

Planning for Single-event Disruptions is Much Easier than Planning for Multiple-event Disruptions

Most MTS research and planning has focused on single-event disruptions – such as an oil spill, natural disaster, or security incident. There has been little analysis of the cascading impacts of multiple disruptions that build on each other in complex ways.

Trucks stacked up near Port of Dover credit: By Barry Davis – originally posted to Flickr as Operation Stack, CC BY 2.0,

This suggests that modeling the impact of multiple vector disruptions and multiple MTS targets can help policy makers, business leaders, and others anticipate, plan for, mitigate, and rapidly recover from future disruptions. This is especially important as Coast Guard and DHS leadership seek to manage risks to an MTS increasingly reliant on complex technology and skilled labor, while remaining vulnerable to a multitude of threats, from cyber security to climate change.

For these reasons, two DHS university centers of excellence, the CCICADA Center led by Rutgers University and the CREATE Center led by the University of Southern California, under the auspices of a third center, the CAOE Center led by Arizona State University, are launching a new project to model the impact of complex, multi-vector disruptions to the MTS – the MCAT Project.

A Tool for Improving MTS Risk Management

In MCAT, CCICADA and CREATE will work with a team of government and private sector stakeholders to better understand the immediate and cascading consequences of multiple disruptions. The research will also investigate pre- and post-incident mitigation and resilience strategies that all parties might implement to reduce risk. The analysis will be transformed into a user-friendly decision-support tool for use by the Coast Guard and others to improve risk management at the local, regional, and national level.

Part of the research will build on CCICADA’s experience with scenario building and subject matter expert interaction for the MTS. CCICADA will develop example complex disruptions and their impacts; develop countermeasures and their impacts; and prepare detailed scenario descriptions for the complex events of greatest interest and impact.

Part of the research will involve an extension of CREATE’s Economic Consequence Analysis Tool, or E-CAT, which has proven successful at addressing the economic consequences of supply-chain issues. Project leaders Professor Fred Roberts (CCICADA), Professor Adam Rose (CREATE), and CAPT Andrew Tucci (USCG retired), expect that the proposed tool, which is to be called MCAT, will be extremely useful to a wide range of stakeholders in the MTS. They expect it to have a high level of accuracy and broad real-world applicability, since it will consider multiple, simultaneous disruptions and draw on more extensive data. The model will take into account uncertainties, thereby providing confidence intervals over a range of estimates.

The Grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal

Figure 1. Credit: Wikimedia commons, Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2021], processed by Pierre Markuse

The grounding of the container ship Ever Given in the Suez Canal
on March 23, 2021, led to significant short-term supply chain impacts and aggravated other existing supply chain issues. When the incident occurred, the global supply chain was already impacted by COVID-19. How did that make impacts of the incident worse? This was the topic of a workshop on “The Suez Canal Incident: Impact and Implications for the Global Maritime Supply Chain,” on June 21, 2021, organized by CCICADA, CREATE, and the ADAC Center. The Workshop addressed the questions: How do multiple, interconnecting disruptions of global supply chains produce outcomes that are much more complicated and challenging than those of single disruptions? How can we best prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from these incidents?

Although the Suez Canal incident was resolved in six days, it nonetheless exacerbated port congestion, container shortages, and spikes in freight rates and energy prices affecting commodities and goods from food to microchips. As the workshop participants observed, a longer blockage would have certainly been more disruptive, raising concerns about how to handle complex supply-chain challenges of long-term importance. These concerns gave rise to the MCAT project.

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