Coast Guard Volunteers Ready for Inauguration Week Emergencies

Whether presented with the emergency water landing of an aircraft; a national security event; or the call to rescue a distressed boater, scores of specially trained waterborne personnel are immediately available to respond throughout the National Capital Region, year-round, but will be even more ready during the next week.

Throughout Inauguration Week, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary – the largest volunteer organization within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a key component of the U.S. Coast Guard, leads a list of assets helping keep the region’s waterways safe and secure.

Throughout the year, hundreds of highly-trained Auxiliary personnel contribute many thousands of hours performing Coast Guard missions in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Colombia. This week, their training, expertise, resources and dedication is likely to be appreciated even more, as the area plays host to the week-long celebration and historical Inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

With Thursday’s emergency landing of a US Air flight into New York’s ice-cold Hudson River, still fresh in the minds of many; a continuing global war on terrorism and the unprecedented precautions taken to ensure homeland security during the week, Auxiliary personnel are taking their role as “America’s Volunteer Lifesavers,” seriously.

The Coast Guard is the lead government agency for maritime safety and security. Auxiliarists augment the Coast Guard, routinely work side by side with their active-duty and reserve counterparts in all missions, except those that involve direct law enforcement or military operations.

With nearly an equal number of Auxiliarists to active-duty members, nationwide; and a larger force than the reserves, “we are the Coast Guard’s ‘force multiplier,'” Russ Magnuson, the Auxiliary’s Division Commander in the area and an Alexandria, Virginia resident, stated. The Auxiliary helps ensure the Coast Guard, known as “The Guardians of the Sea,” holds true to their motto – “Semper Paratus – Always Ready!” “We are all part of the same Coast Guard family, we share the same values” Magnuson explained.

During the week, Auxiliary members, who come from all walks of life and are aged 17 and up, with a wide variety of boats, two-way radios, aircraft and other resources are performing a variety of duties, including standing-in for active-duty personnel at the Coast Guard’s communications center and actively patrolling the area’s waterways to ensure an effective and rapid search and rescue response, freeing active-duty personnel to concentrate on its increased security mission.

During Inauguration Week, four years ago, Auxiliary boat crews not only fought freezing air and water temperatures, but also shoveled snow from the decks of its boats on Inauguration Day, following an overnight snowfall. This year, while snow is not predicted, the temperatures are expected to be freezing, with even colder wind chill factors.

With many roads into Washington closed for security reasons; many workers having the day off; combined with the normal group of winter boaters, waterborne hunting and fishing enthusiasts; and a high interest in being part of, or close to, a major historical event, a higher than normal number of people could take to the water. Boaters will also face some closures on the waterways. A listing of closures and other information is available at www.securityzone.com.

“We have already begun our Inauguration Week patrols and communications center watchstanding duties,” Magnuson revealed. The stepped-up patrols and watchstanding duties will continue until sometime in the future after Inauguration Day, but the exact date was not released for security reasons, according to Joseph P Cirone, a spokesman for the Auxiliary.

With the possibility of terrorism, emergency or disaster ever-present; far less considered during the winter months, is the very real possibility of a boating accident or mishap, that could send the occupants of a boat into the frigid waters of the Potomac or Anacostia Rivers or any one of the many other tributaries from the District to the Chesapeake Bay.

Should an act of terrorism, emergency, disaster or boat accident occur, such as the capsizing of an 18-foot boat in the Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday, occupied by six outdoorsmen, two of whom lost their lives; the sinking of a 24-boat near the mouth of the Potomac River, sending one man into the water, recently; or the emergency water landing of an aircraft from one of the many airports in the region, subjecting its occupants to evacuate into the river, the Auxiliary and its local, state and commercial maritime and public safety partners are ready to render aid promptly and professionally.

Although rescue forces will arrive on the scene by boat and air in a relatively short time, the Auxiliary reminds would-be boaters to take a few precautions before venturing out. In addition to making sure that the boat’s mechanical equipment and structural conditions are good, the weather needs to be checked and seriously considered; a friend or family member ashore should be told who is going on the boat, where the boat is headed and the approximate time it should return to its departure point, so the Coast Guard may be contacted if the boaters do not return as expected, as well as having the cellular telephone numbers of those aboard; a marine-band two-way radio should be available for direct communication with the Coast Guard, Auxiliary and other vessels in the area; appropriate layers of clothing, and ideally a cold weather immersion suit, should be worn.

“Wearing a lifejacket is an absolute must. Not only will it help prevent drowning, the most common cause of boating accident fatality, but it will also aid in conserving energy and body heat while awaiting rescue” declared Auxiliarist Janice Lavoie, who works full-time as a Director of Nursing at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Virginia. “Immersion in cold water, such as we have now, can result in death due to hypothermia – the cooling of the body’s inner core – in just 30 minutes,” Lavoie said. “Not wearing a lifejacket while on a boat, is simply asking for trouble,” Lavoie concluded.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the civilian component of the United States Coast Guard. Founded in 1939 by an Act of Congress as the US Coast Guard Reserve and re-designated the Auxiliary in 1941, the 31,000 volunteer members (men and women) volunteer more then two million hours benefitting boaters and their families, in support of Coast Guard missions.

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