ICS: Sail Boston behind the scenes

by Petty Officer 3rd Class James Rhodes

Boston – Sail Boston 2009, an event where tall ships from all over the world sail into the Boston Harbor, draws crowds as diverse as the vessels themselves. Nearly 50 tall ships arrived from overseas in Charleston, S.C., on June 25, for a five-day visit. From there they sailed to Boston. With the influx of boats came people interested in seeing the large vessels. This brought a need for people at work behind the scenes to make this event come together to ensure safety and security. These people are all members of an incident command system, also known as a unified command.

The unified command for Sail Boston was located in the North End at Coast Guard Sector Boston and consisted of many different agencies, local and federal. All of these agencies bring their jurisdiction and authority to a command structure designed to simplify the use of assets and flow of operations.

Prior to an incident command system in order for one agency to receive assistance from another they would have to track down the appropriate authorizing authority. Under the unified command structure, all they have to do is walk across the room and ask an agency representative.

The unified command consists of five divisions of authority within one system. They are the command, planning, logistics, finance, and operations.

The Coast Guard, the lead agency for Sail Boston, made up the command division. The command division is determined using various factors such as location and jurisdiction. They are ultimately responsible for the decisions that need to be made concerning the command post.

The planning division is responsible for coming up with a strategy to make the event possible. They take into account the operation as a whole and what needs to be done to provide a safe and secure event. They determine the resources they might need, which are procured by logistics.

Logistics ensures all the resources are obtained from personnel to assets, such as boats, helicopters, and squad cars. Logistics even deals with things seemingly small, like pens and pencils. However, if they are over looked, it can cause a problem within the operation.

With such a multi-faceted system, there is always the question of how to pay for the operation. That is where the finance division enters the equation. They handle the budget for the operation and make sure the appropriate funds are allocated to the right places.

After plans are made, resources are gathered and things are paid for, someone has to execute the plan. Enter operations; this entails boat movements, security zones, anything happening on the ground or water.

“The purpose of the unified command is to ensure that all the stake holders have a say when issues arise,” said Lt. Stephen West, public affairs officer for the incident command system. “Having a unified command allows us to respond uniformly and quickly, within our jurisdictions, so we are all on the same page.”

Numerous assets fall under this command system, for Sail Boston the resources involved were:

  • Three Coast Guard cutters that provided command, control, and communications for the duration of the event, two of them based in Boston. Those are the Spencer, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter, and the Flyingfish, an 87-foot marine protector class patrol boat. The Sanibel, a 110-foot island class patrol boat home ported in Woods Hole, Mass., was also a major security asset on the water.
  • The Coast Guard provided boats from the following stations: Station Boston, Station Gloucester, Station Point Allerton, and a Maritime Safety and Security Team from Galveston, Texas
  • The Coast Guard Auxiliary added 19 boats
  • The Boston Police Department, which supplied three boats
  • The Massachusetts Environmental Police, which supplied 13 boats
  • The Boston Fire Department, which provided a boat, a roving shore side patrol, and a Hazardous Material Team
  • The Massachusetts State Police Department, which supplied seven boats

Other on scene agencies that contributed were:

  • FBI
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency
  • Boston Emergency Management Service
  • Boston Emergency Management Agency

With so many assets to be managed, the unified command is needed to streamline operations.

“Many different federal, state, and local agencies, which have varied jurisdictions and scopes of authority, are working on the water,” said West. “The ICS is used to streamline communication and ensure we are working as one.”

The ICS can be used in any sort of incident involving several agencies and jurisdictions.

“We can shift the incident command system to respond to any situation ashore or in the maritime environment,” said West.

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