Coast Guard Responding to Influx of Storms

By Navy Seaman William Selby

WASHINGTON – In the wake of Hurricane Gustav, the Coast Guard is making preparations for a possible wave of tropical storms and hurricanes, a senior Coast Guard officer said Sept. 5.

“We don’t have a lot of bench strength, but we’re moving forces around in preparation for each one of these operations to position them so that we can respond,” Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commander of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, told bloggers during a teleconference to address the current storm systems in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

To be ready for the storms, Papp said, his top concern is to make sure the Coast Guard people are able and primed to do their jobs.

“Just by virtue of where we are located, along the coast, and the fact that one of our most important resources — aircraft that we use for conducting rescue and recovery operations — are extremely vulnerable, we spend a lot of time looking where that storm might land,” Papp said.

Another concern, Papp said, is making sure all the families of Coast Guard members are safe.

“If [the families] are in danger, then you’ve got Coast Guardsmen who have to worry about families as well as worry about doing their jobs,” he added. “For instance, as Gustav approached the coast in the Gulf, one of the first things we focused on was evacuating the families, making sure they were taken care of.”

With their families safe, Coast Guard members can then be positioned to follow the storm as well as to conduct post-storm surveys and rescue and recovery operations.

Papp also addressed some of the training that the Coast Guard does in preparation for this weather.

“We actually do dress rehearsals throughout the year,” Papp said. “In fact, Atlantic area staff, back a couple of months ago, did what we call a continuity of operation plan, movement out to St. Louis.”

In addition to Coast Guard training and preparation, Papp said one of the things the service stresses the most is public preparation.

“I think the worst thing people can do is perhaps get apathetic because storms turn out to be not as severe as they thought they might be, or they did an awful lot of preparation and then the storm veers elsewhere,” he said. “Preparations made for a storm are never wasted, because it gets you in a frame of mind.”

Although most of the news has been pleasant and positive in relation to the storms, Papp mentioned that the Coast Guard lost a four-man crew Sept. 4 while doing an exercise with a small boat about five miles south of Honolulu.

“We just ask that everybody keep our Coast Guard shipmates in their thoughts and prayers, and it’s a stark reminder that the things we do are done in dangerous environments,” he said.

Above all, Papp explained that it’s constant training and planning that keeps the Coast Guard sharp.

“Hopefully, regardless of the severity of the storm, we’ve done enough preparation and training and drills to be prepared for it,” Papp said.

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