We Can Do It – Citizens Action Network to the Rescue

SEATTLE – Guarding the coast is a full-time job and even with a number of trained personnel and assets it is quite impossible to have a vigilant eye on all areas of water. In an effort to better aid the Pacific Northwest units, The Thirteenth Coast Guard District created the Citizens Action Network (CAN). CAN was first initiated in the summer of 1999 by Coast Guard Group Seattle and has since been recognized as an extremely valuable program to Coast Guard members. Originally known as Northwest Watch, CAN is formed of 262 active duty, reserve and auxiliary Coast Guard members as well as U.S. and Canadian citizens in the community who proactively volunteer to assist the Coast Guard with its daily missions.

“Coast Guard vessels do not make daily patrols in every waterway,” said Cmdr. John Moriarty, Chief of Waterways Management for District Thirteen. “Units rely on the waterway users to provide information on Aids to Navigation (Aid),” said Moriarty. “The citizens provide real-time coverage because they have waterfront views and can keep an eye on the water most of the time.”

“CAN members are like neighbors with binoculars,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Goldman, a Boatswain’s Mate with Aids to Navigations Team (ANT) Puget Sound. “Units can call CAN members and ask if an Aid is on or off.”

With 306 Aids located throughout ANT Puget Sound’s area of responsibility, the station stays busy.

“A 10 minute phone call saves us a tremendous amount of trouble,” said Goldman. “It saves us the money and time that would go into just checking if a light is working or not.”

“For three crewmembers to check an Aid it could cost as much as $620 and that is per aid,” said Chief Petty Officer Chris Sage, Officer in Charge with ANT Puget Sound.

Moriarty pointed out that CAN was extremely helpful in that members would contact units to inform them if something appeared wrong or out of place. “All we have to do is call a CAN member on the phone and ask them to look out their window and tell us what they see,” said Moriarty. “The people have a better view overall and it may save us a trip.”

Recently, the Pacific Northwest suffered a series of severe weather ranging from down pouring rain to 90-mph windstorms in the Puget Sound region. The harsh weather caused many power outages in residential and commercial areas. Some power outages lasted only a few days, while others lasted for weeks. Intense flooding and high powered winds destroyed anything that came into its path. Large trees collapsed into homes, boats were swept onto the shore and power lines were downed throughout many neighborhoods making the landscape look like a war zone.

“We did not hear about the program until recently,” said Sage. “Commander Moriarty sent us an e-mail saying CAN could be used to our benefit in dealing with Aids. We received the e-mail in September before the storms hit, so it was perfect timing and very effective.”

“A second pair of eyes is great, windstorm or not,” said Goldman.

An entire island in Puget Sound had lost power during the storm, said Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Hamilton, an Electricians Mate for ANT Puget Sound. All a CAN member has to do is say, “We have power. The aid is on,” he said.

“One simple phone call saves the day,” said Goldman smiling. “It eliminates risk for our members.”

As an innovation, the CAN is the first-and-only maritime organization like it in the country. It has crystallized over 300 U.S. and Canadian waterfront citizens and business owners into an active, well informed and cost effective homeland security component who work directly with federal, state and local maritime agencies in connecting all hazards resources with citizen’s assistance and leadership.

The CAN program was awarded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretaries Award for Excellence in 2006. Secretary Michael Chertoff hosted the Secretary’s 2nd Annual Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C., on May 10, 2006, and presented awards to DHS employees and teams nominated for their exemplary contributions to the department during the past year. This award recognizes outstanding achievement or innovation by a distinguished employee(s) engaged in work to further the mission of DHS.

The combined efforts of CAN volunteers have tremendously aided the coastal and waterways units in their daily missions. Whether it be calling a volunteer to look out their window to check an Aid to having the member call and report someone in distress, CAN has given the community a chance to be an integral part of the Coast Guard. For more information on the Citizen’s Action Network, or how to join, visit http://www.uscg.mil/d13/can/.

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