Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today to discuss Coast Guard Search and Rescue and its response to the 2017 Hurricanes.
The Commandant began his testimony stating that the Coast Guard is the only armed service housed within the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard’s combination of broad authorities and capabilities complements not just agencies within the Department, but that of the other armed services in the Department of Defense. With more than 40% of the Coast Guard’s cutter fleet assigned to each of the five Geographic Combatant Commands, the Commandant emphasized how Coast Guard men and women are vital to mission execution and success in both domains.
“We are first and foremost an armed service with broad law enforcement authorities that span the globe and a service that is called upon time and again during natural and man-made disasters. We are a flat organization with a bias for action that enables us to surge the entire Coast Guard when our Nation is threatened with disaster. ”
The Commandant also captured critical success factors, attributing the decentralized command and control structure along with the Service’s ability to rapidly reallocate resources, as two key elements. Specifically, he highlighted the repositioning of assets and the impact that had on daily operations.
“Cutters and aircraft were taken away from search and rescue, counter-drug, and security operations in favor of saving lives, restoring affected waterways, and delivering critical disaster relief supplies and equipment to impacted areas. Nowhere was this more profound than in the Eastern Pacific – and the TCOs were benefactors of our diminished presence at a time when over 60,000 Americans perish each year from drug overdoses.”
The Commandant also stressed to the Committee that in a span of five weeks, Coast Guard men and women rescued more than 11,300 people and 1,500 pets; they resolved 1,269 discrepant aids to navigation, oversaw 290 pollution cases, assessed more than 3,600 grounded vessels and restored America’s ports and waterways for maritime commerce and transportation.
During the hearing the Commandant drew attention to damaged Coast Guard facilities, IT infrastructure and deferred maintenance. The Commandant elaborated on these costs and their impact to the organization
“Based on Harvey, Irma, and Maria alone, we need nearly a billion dollars to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore eroded readiness. In particular, the Coast Guard incurred over $90 million in damages from Hurricane Matthew, yet supplemental relief was diminished to $15 million, and we still have units operating out of makeshift piers that have not been hardened to withstand any kind of significant weather.
Given the many competing demands in our country today and the propensity to fix only what is broken, I am concerned the Coast Guard will continue to be known solely for our success – and not what we need to be made whole.”
The Commandant concluded his opening remarks by highlighting that the Coast Guard’s unique blend of authorities, capabilities, capacities, and partnerships position us well for success during maritime SAR events and natural disasters.
The Commandant thanked the Committee for its support and promised to remain Semper Paratus – Always Ready – to meet the safety and security needs of the nation.
Editor’s note: for more information on the Commandant’s testimony visit the committee’s page, where you can also watch the full hearing.