The U.S. Coast Guard lived up to its motto of being “Always Ready” in 2011 – from interdicting the first drug sub in Caribbean waters to providing humanitarian relief to a drought-stricken island nation, Coast Guard crews had a remarkable year. As 2011 winds down, Compass brings to you “Your Coast Guard in 2011” – a series highlighting the top stories, missions and cases from around the nation. Visit us every day this week to read about each district and the extraordinary men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Today’s story comes from the 1st Coast Guard District and focuses on the preparedness and response efforts of Coast Guard crews during 2011’s first Atlantic hurricane.
Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Swanson.
In late August the entire U.S. Eastern Seaboard braced as Hurricane Irene threatened lives and property.
The approaching danger meant crews throughout the 1st Coast Guard District, headquartered in Boston, needed to work quickly to prepare and respond.
Response plans were initiated to prepare the boating and port communities. Commands from New Jersey to northernmost Maine readied personnel and equipment to respond to a type of storm rarely seen in the United States.
As Irene traveled north leaving destruction in its wake, more than 22 million people in the New York metropolitan area prepared for the worst. Coast Guard members of Sectors New York and Long Island Sound manned their stations, ensuring safety and security on some of America’s most critical waterways, as the storm struck the region Aug. 28.
In these situations, with so much on the line, Coast Guard crews must quickly identify their priorities.
“Our greatest concern is ensuring the safety of the maritime community,” said Lt. Susan Arbeiter, a Sector New York command duty officer. “In ports as densely populated as New York and New Jersey, doing so requires constant communication and collaboration with our port partners, commercial mariners and recreational boating community.”
Coast Guard personnel worked closely with local offices of emergency management and advised mariners to stay off the water. Crews also worked with port partners to initiate a safety plan for commercial ships and pollution response teams prepared to deal with any hazardous substance spills.
As the storm track narrowed, Coast Guard crews relocated their boats to secure areas such as other airport terminals, firehouses and safe havens, ensuring they survived the storm and could respond immediately once the storm passed.
Some of the district’s northern vessels sought shelter in New Bedford, Mass., behind a hurricane barrier built more than a half-century ago.
“Besides a number of commercial vessels anchored safely, thankfully, the waterways were all but abandoned,” said Mark Averill, a Sector Long Island Sound command duty officer.
As Irene struck, much of the damage was inland; Irene’s rain flowed back into Long Island Sound flooding rivers. Coast Guard crews assisted partner agencies responding and conducted storm damage surveys from air and sea.
“Getting back out there after the storm was the undisputed priority,” said Lt. Joe Klinker, 1st Coast Guard District public affairs officer. “Our crews refused to slow down. With major ports like Boston and New York moving a combined $900 million in commerce on an average day, every second counted.”
Aids to navigation teams checked buoys, lights and day markers to ensure they were working and in place. As soon as it was safe to resume operations on the water, Coast Guard captains of the port opened shipping lanes and terminals.
“I am proud of the hard work and dedication of our Coast Guard men and women as well as the broader port community that prepared for and responded to Hurricane Irene,” said Capt. Linda Fagan, commander of Sector New York.
Hurricane Irene may have been a destructive force but no lives were lost on area waterways due to careful planning and the extraordinary men and women of the 1st Coast Guard District remained ready to respond no matter the threat.