A safe haven from the storm: US Coast Guard’s National COOP site

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Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley

ST. LOUIS – When a natural disaster strikes the nation the U.S. Coast Guard is one of the first responders, saving lives and helping to restore communities. However, when disaster strikes the physical location of Coast Guard local and command units, those who are working there must be able to relocate to a safe and secure facility to continue to carry out critical missions. This is the reason for the establishment and restoration of the Coast Guard’s National Continuity of Operations site in St. Louis.

A COOP is set up by governmental organizations and agencies to, “ensure that mission essential functions and primary mission essential functions continue to be performed during a wide range of emergencies, including localized acts of nature, accidents, acts of terrorism, and technological or attack-related emergencies,” according to the COOP policy and planning manual. This allows members displaced during an emergency to still be able to operate and fulfill duties.

A major example of this was during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in which the Coast Guard was one of the lead federal agencies for rescue and recovery despite the majority of the members being displaced by the disaster itself. Many members were relocated to St. Louis to carry out command, logistical and administrative duties in support of those who were performing operational functions. Since then, St. Louis has been considered the national COOP site for Coast Guard Atlantic Area and the 5th, 7th and 8th Districts, but it hasn’t always met expectations. Current Base Detachment St. Louis commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Ben Karrpinski, was one of many relocated to St. Louis during Hurricane Katrina and knows how far it has come.

“The old site had about half the capacity it does now. There was no formal conference room, video teleconference capabilities or TVs to monitor local response efforts. Even the furniture was old and rather unsuitable,” said Karpinski.

Coast Guard National COOP site

A workspace for government members relocated during a natural disaster is readily available at the Coast Guard’s National Continuity of Operations site in St. Louis. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley

Essentially, the location started out simply as a space for people to have a place to sit down and use a computer. It was not designed to facilitate near whole commands let alone multiple ones for long periods of time. For the space to be able to accommodate the future demands of a possible migration of people displaced a lot of work had to be done. Since Hurricane Katrina the space has been completely updated.

“The intensions were to build to a capacity to handle multiple commands and to continue operations without pause after an emergency,” said Karpinski.

Base Detachment St. Louis and Electronics Support Detachment St. Louis personnel devoted more than 100 hours planning, 200 hours of deinstallation, 1800 of installation and 400 hours of quality assurance to creating the new site. According to Base and ESD St. Louis estimates, information technology personnel removed more than 20,000 feet of old cable and installed more than 33,000 feet of new cable so as to increase computer, telephone and state of the art teleconferencing capabilities.

“The new and improved site is more functional in design and far more capable of dealing with a real-time COOP emergency,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jeffery Meyer, the administration officer for Base Detachment St. Louis.

The space has been restructured to have video teleconference rooms, secure spaces, office space for commands and reasonable desk space for other members. In addition to the amenities of the space, those who are relocated will have access to the services provided by Base St. Louis and the federal building including transportation, cafeteria, convenience stores, sick call and military ID cards. The space also remains available to larger scale training exercises and those that require live action play. While the COOP site has come a long way in the last eight years it is still capable of improving and adapting to future changes.

“It will always be an asset that has room for improvement. Whether new equipment or a reconfiguration of the space to meet new needs, it can serve a lot of purposes. If the day comes that an event of significance happens, Coast guardsmen will find a space that is safe and comfortable to work from and have shipmates there ready to help them rebuild,” said Karpinski.

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