With flood waters rising, DARTs hit the target

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas M. Blue

High, swift, debris-filled water is enough to drive most people to escape to higher ground but, there is a select group of men and women whose jobs depend on the unexpected curve balls thrown from Mother Nature.

These men and women comprise teams throughout the Coast Guard known simply as DARTs or Disaster Assistance Response Teams.

DARTs are specialized teams that are trained in evacuating citizens from flooded areas and relocating them out of harms way. Their missions are accomplished with 16-foot skiffs boats, equipped with small outboard motors.

When mobilized, DARTs can move quickly and easily with all the needed assets to be a fully capable, self-sufficient unit that can move into the affected areas to assist citizens and conduct close quarter search and rescue.

“We launch our boats and maintain radio communications with the team supervisor from a central location,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Wilbee, DART leader from Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River. “We also coordinate with state and local agencies to ensure that all citizens are safe and evacuated.”

Intense rain induced flooding across the upper region of the Missouri and North Platte rivers that sent rising water and debris raging down the lower half of the Missouri River in early May 2007.

Missouri state and local agencies began issuing evacuation orders and barricading roads in areas prone to flooding May 8, 2007.

This order prompted Coast Guard Capt. Sharon Richey, commander of Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River to mobilize the DARTs for support.

“By deploying this team early, our resources were immediately available to assist our state and local partners, but especially ready to assist the citizens, ” said Lt. Cmdr Patrick Clark, deputy commander of Sector Upper Mississippi River.

This mobilization of the DARTs, also moved the Coast Guard to established an Incident Command System (ICS) and an Incident Command Post in conjunction with the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), in Jefferson City to monitor the river situation.

The DARTs were sent to Jefferson City, Mo., the area of most concern, to stand-by and await the order to launch. While there, area familiarization was conducted and levees, dams and river conditions were monitored.

After several days of waiting the order to launch never came and the ICS along with SEMA was disbanded.

The DARTs were ready to do the job that they had done so effectively in September of 2005, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans-evacuate citizens and save lives.

“We were ready-in Jefferson City or wherever we were needed,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Cossitt, a DART crewmember and skiff operator.

With river stages falling, roads reopening and Missouri citizens returning to their homes the DARTs returned to Sector Upper Mississippi River in St. Louis to train and prepare for the next time Mother Nature unleashed her fury.

The Coast Guard may not have put one boat in the water or evacuated one citizen, but they were there until the floodwaters resided. Ready to assist. Ready to do the job that they do best.

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