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U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program

Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Interviewees: CAPT Neil Buschman, USCG

Area Operations, Atlantic Area

CAPT Robert Teufel, USN

Branch Area Chief for Operations Management & Oversight, Atlantic Area


Interviewer: PACS Peter J. Capelotti, USCGR
Date of Interview:  27 September 2005
Place: Atlantic Area Command Center, Portsmouth, Virginia 

 


Q: Okay Captain Buschman, could you give me your name and spell your last name please Sir?

CAPT Buschman: I sure can. Captain Neil Buschman; B-U-S-C-H-M-A-N and I am the Area Operations.

Q: And Captain Teufel?

CAPT Teufel: I’m Captain Bob Teufel; T-E-U-F-E-L and I’m Area Branch Chief for Operations Management and Oversight.

Q: And I have to say that you have a khaki suit on and so how did we get you Sir?

CAPT Teufel: I’m here in one of the Navy billets assigned to Coast Guard Atlantic Area supporting Fleet Forces Command, Coast Guard Defense Forces East.

Q: Okay, and he works in your shop or adjunct to your shop, or what’s the organizational relationship between you and this billet?

CAPT Buschman: Well we have two primary branches; Area Operations Forces and Area Operations Oversight and I’m the Operations Officer, so he essentially works for me as a Branch Chief.

Q: Okay – and I’m sorry - and you have the other branches working under you; you would have Aviation and Surface Forces?

CAPT Buschman: Well that’s under AOF; Area Operation Forces, and you will be speaking to those folks I think tomorrow. Captain Jacobs is AOF.

Q: Captain Jacobs, right. 

CAPT Buschman: Captain Taylor is in charge of the Aviation.

Q: I spoke with him this morning, right.  Can you give me a sense Sir of what was on the radar screen just prior to Katrina? What was your office working in the run up to this and when did this come onto your radar screen?

CAPT Buschman: This came onto my radar screen Wednesday evening. I don’t remember the date. We’d have to look at a calendar. I remember this vividly. I was eating supper at about eight o’clock, the TV was on behind my wife and I and she said, “What storm is that”, and I had not been aware of any storm and I turned around and it was kind of a pop-up tropical depression. I think the number was 12. So I went to my computer and signed on and it indicated that this may be Tropical Depression 10 that reformed and was supposed to go into Florida. At that time there was no specific hurricane predictions and the next day it indicated probably a CAT 1 in Florida. Friday I think was when it would approach the coast and then dissipate as it went over land or weakened and then re-emerge and possibly reform in the Gulf, and as we all know it went a little bit further south than it was originally projected and did not weaken over Florida. It hit the warm Everglades and popped out as a CAT 1. And so from that point on I think it’s safe to say the news got worse with every forecast. What I was doing before that was a variety of things, which are relatively new, but one of the largest initiatives underway is we’re getting ready to stand up the National Capital Region Rotary Wing Air Intercept Mission.

Q: Do you have an acronym for that Captain?

CAPT Buschman: NCR.

Q: Okay.

CAPT Buschman: It’s NCRRWAI. We just call it NCR. 

Q: Okay.

CAPT Buschman: That was probably the hottest thing on my plate but there is a variety of other initiatives we were trying to get underway including some boardings of large commercial vessels from a cutter further out than the sea buoy. There is just a variety of initiatives that all went into the backburner for the blur that became Hurricane Katrina.

Q: We just talked to the Chief of Staff and we were just kind of involved in a discussion on resource flow and so forth. I guess when that comes up on your radar screen you start to get not only situational awareness about it but what you might need to respond to it. 

CAPT Buschman: Yes. The first thing we do is take an inventory of area assets that are in the way of the projected path and any potential projected paths and then coordinate with the District counterparts. In my case District 7 Operations for the initial impact. And by the nature of their District they’re very, very well versed in hurricane evasion and at some point take TACON of all cutters, not just the cutters that they already have TACON of for Hurricane Evasion Plans. 

Q: Is that something that you have to make happen or do they just . . . when a hurricane’s coming then you guys don’t know the drills and they just take them and move them wherever they need too?

CAPT Buschman: By the Plan they take them and move them. The reality is it’s a concurrent exercise. My Cutter Managers call our cutters up, find out what state of readiness they’re in, whether the Command Cadre is actually physically there or on leave and whether we have to parachute in a Commanding Officer or something like that.

Q: And that has to have been done in the past?

CAPT Buschman: That’s correct, yes. If the Commanding Officer’s on leave folks are very uncomfortable with an MEC or above, getting underway without one. So we’ve substituted or directed someone to fly back very quickly depending on the situation.

Q: Let me ask you this as sort of just a curiosity question. If you have a cutter in Charlie Status do you try to avoid that in August and September in Florida or what do you do in that situation?

CAPT Buschman: Yes, try to avoid it being hard down. So either you deal with what you have, but in this season the only thing we’ve had to deal with in that regard are patrol boats that have been high and dry; that have been in drydock or hard down at a dockside. None of the MECs have been in that pickle.

Q: Yes.

CAPT Buschman: So essentially it’s a, I think a combined Evasion Plan that the District is actually responsible for but we are also working with cutter COs to get their intentions and our Chief of Staff that you interviewed in particular, being from the cutter community, takes great ownership on personally reviewing the plans. But as I said, my experience over this season is that District 7 is very proactive.

Q: Did we have any situation where you had to parachute in anybody to get these underway?

CAPT Buschman: Not for Katrina, for Hurricane Dennis we did.

Q: Okay.

CAPT Buschman: We actually had a substitute CO on one of the 270s.

Q: Really?  As this transited across Florida and sort of slowed down but then it started to spool up again what we’ve heard today is that there’s sort of these four level response modes that you know are the usual hurricane conditions and then there’s what happens when it becomes a little bit more then a usual hurricane. Then they’re sending everything we’ve got and then there’s the fourth level where all hell breaks loose. Is that pretty much what you were seeing from your chair?

CAPT Buschman: Well my chair is first and foremost concerned with making sure none of our assets get destroyed and when it pops out in the Gulf - and there is a variety of things that could happen - you’re immediately given the dilemma of when to get underway and where to go so you’re not trapped if the projected track doesn’t work. And in that regard it is the Coast Guard comparing notes with what the Navy’s doing also. So we do a variety of things in that regard. So as it popped out as a CAT 1 that was Issue One. Issue Two was we’re all smart enough to know there’s nothing but warm water between it and wherever it’s going and it’s already a CAT 1. So the forecast indicated that there was no sheer immediately and as I said, every subsequent forecast got a little bit worse. When I left on Friday evening it was projected to be a minimum CAT 3, possible CAT 4, and then the next day it was either already a CAT 4 or was going to be a CAT 4. I think we even launched a CAT 5 possibility. So at that point you start scurrying around and looking at recovery efforts as well as disbursal efforts.

Q: These disbursal efforts; are you the Navy’s bellybutton to the Coast Guard in terms of what the Navy is doing or how does that work Sir?

CAPT Teufel: Not officially per say but I did do some liaison work to coordinate and carry back my understanding of what DoD efforts were and what their preparations were. My primary role here was mainly force apportionment -- looking at LantArea assets, making sure that resources were provided to the Districts to fulfill their needs in accordance with the Commandant’s guidance on supporting the breadth of Coast Guard missions throughout the fiscal year. So as we looked at the storm approaching we reviewed what assets were available and what other mission areas might be able to give up assets if they had had to support recovery efforts.

Q: That’s a good point. I hadn’t even thought that we were coming up on the end of the fiscal year. Did that impact us at all, at least until they decided to turn on the spigot a couple of days into it and release all the money? Did we have resources that were maxed out on hours and all of that stuff at the end of the year?

CAPT Buschman: We kind of did but it wasn’t part of the recovery planning thought process, at least from my perspective it was not. I think we’re an outfit that responds first and worries about money second.

Q: Who’s going to pay for it later.

CAPT Buschman: Yes.

Q: Was that what it seemed like from where you were sitting?

CAPT Teufel: From where I sat as the storm approached - and Captain Buschman walked you through the storm’s path across the Florida Peninsula and into the Gulf - I thought the Coast Guard was exceptionally proactive in making sure that Area and District assets were in a position to respond as far as lifesaving efforts were concerned as soon as possible as the storm passed -- taking efforts to step aside to preserve our own resources; to not be in the path of the storm, and then all rolled in behind it to render assistance.

Q: And as you rolled right in behind this certainly the storm goes through and we sort of caught a break on the backside of it when the first helo crews came into New Orleans but then the levees break. Before that happened were there any discussions as to how you might respond if that did happen? Was that on anybody’s thought process until say midnight on Tuesday or whenever; Monday evening, whenever they started to leak?

CAPT Buschman: Yes, the short answer is yes. One of the things I did on Sunday in my job is I touched base with District 8 Operations Officer counterpart. Of course at that point you knew this was going to be a major hit and depending upon how direct a hit it was we all knew those levees were in danger. District 1 Operations Officer, because he’s a provider and offerer of air assets; Captain Steve Taylor who you spoke to in District 7, were all talking about which assets to move now and we moved down an H-60 and two crews from Cape Cod as well as a Falcon. We moved them on Sunday. The Aviators I found to be extremely proactive, that without direction they essentially start gathering themselves for phasing themselves in, either right behind the storm with that first wave we had pre-positioned but also crews essentially aligning themselves up to make sure they were in the right readiness posture.

Q: So this was under active discussion on Sunday that “If “X” happens we’ve got “Y” ready to go”?

CAPT Buschman: Well on Sunday we were aligning ourselves up, I think you would say, for that first response. 

Q: That wave of the hurricane itself.

CAPT Buschman: On Monday, I think late Sunday and into Monday we started aligning ourselves up for the second wave and for sustainment; what we would do to sustain an effort. But I have to tell you I don’t think any of us thought that this levee, when and if it broke, you would have essentially just the Coast Guard there for as long as we were there. You know maybe there were other people responding but the impression I got was that the vast majority of the response effort was just Coast Guard. And at some point I got a specific order from Commander, Atlantic Area to get everything down there but the kitchen sink and to leave absolute bare minimums for SAR coverage in the rest of the Districts. That maybe your fourth phase you’re talking about or maybe there was even a fifth phase, but after we thought we’d emptied the cabinet there was even more.

Q: There were a few crumbs left at the bottom.

CAPT Buschman: Right, and you know there were PAC Area assets that came in but we also had Canadian helicopters come down and help stand the Search and Rescue B-Zero Watch for New England in Air Station Cape Cod. I’m not aware of that ever happening before, maybe it has, but that was a fascinating twist for me. 

Q: Yes. But you’re right. For the first couple of days that’s one of the things that we were touching on today is that . . . in your experience do you know of any operational pre-planning for Urban Search and Rescue by the Coast Guard?

CAPT Buschman: No, maybe these DART teams by the nature of the beast have some of that training because they’re used to working floods in the western rivers and throughout the 8th District including the northern part, but a lot of that is in rural type. In other words it’s house to house but it’s really not Urban SAR so I’m not aware of any formal . . . .

Q: Is there capability of that in DoD or in the Navy? Do you guys train up for anything like that in a non-combat sense?

CAPT Teufel: Not that I am aware of in a non-combat sense for Urban SAR, particularly aerial Urban SAR. I mean there has certainly been a great deal of training that deals with conflict and actions in an urban environment since 9/11 but not specifically in a disaster relief setting.

Q: Right.

CAPT Teufel: You know I have an amphibious background and I know that the Marines that we’ve associated with for non-combatant evacuation operations certainly do some training to gather and extract folks but not to the extent we’re talking about here. And also the Naval Beach Group assets have Disaster Response Teams that are comprised of CBs, Beachmasters, Assault Craft Units that include amphibious vehicles and whatnot to come in and provide assistance, but again, not to the extent that we’re talking about here.

Q: Do you anticipate that’s going to be . . . I mean where there’s talk about the DoD getting the lead on emergency response in a situation like this, do you anticipate Marines bringing those big inflatable landing craft into New Orleans the next time this happens?

CAPT Teufel: Well you know it really depends . . . I hesitate to use the term “DoD having the lead in a situation like that”. This is a personal opinion. Especially for the initial stages of a disaster I’m not sure that’s right. I think heritage means a lot and I think the heritage that the Coast Guard has in responding to emergent situations, lifesaving efforts and disaster relief efforts really should sway a lot of opinion as far as deciding who has the lead. Now can DoD bring a great deal to the table in an extended event that requires a lot of lift, a lot of capability? Sure. But you know I think those are all things that are yet to be determined. There would have to be a lot of thought regarding all aspects of disaster response before someone says, “Yes, DoD ought to have the lead.” You know some assets that people point to aren’t suited for an urban environment. LCACs: really not suited for that. LCUs: big, heavy, slow, not sure they are suited for that. If you’re talking about RHIBs, Combat Rubber Rating Craft: there are some roles for them. DUKWs, LARCS that the Beachmasters have; there are certainly some roles for those types of assets, but I’m not sure we have those in great numbers. So there has got to be a lot of thought before anybody drives a stake in the ground with, “Here’s who has the lead in the future” in my opinion. 

Q: Well this came up today, that here you are in a city when I guess the Air Force is supposed to have the lead on inland SAR, and where were they? Was it because the city was underwater and the Coast Guard just happened to be there and started to flow resources into the area? But even given that, what’s the relationship between say Coast Guard Coastal SAR and Air Force Inland SAR and who takes what when and in what situation, and was it such the matter that it wasn’t federalized and the Coast Guard doesn’t have that issue or . . . ?

CAPT Buschman: Yes, I mean those are good questions. You know my perspective of what I saw from this is that we did what we normally do and got into a response posture. I think DoD felt constrained in the sense that they had to be requested to come in and get a mission assigned to them. At some point if people got on the radio and started screaming, “Help, help inland”, I guess the Air Force probably would have been SAR Mission Controller in some of those cases but there was no communications [chuckle] once this came through. 

Q: Right.

CAPT Buschman: And I think that that’s another thing that is just a really interesting thing to have lived through is what happens when you completely loose communications for a period of time, and we’re just so used to instantaneous communications. I’ll give you one example. When I said I spoke to the 8th District Chief of Operations on Sunday it was on our cell phones. I don’t know if his cell phone is even working today. You know that 504 area code was dead right after the storm and the only ones that worked where folks that had one that had a different area code for some reason.

Q: What’s interesting to me after having talked to the folks at Activities New York after 9/11, they went through this in New York that day and I had assumed, and I think maybe incorrectly, that four years later all of this had been solved, that when we have a big disaster the military is going to be able to talk to state, local, federal; all that kind of stuff. Everything was waxed in this situation. Nobody could talk to each other for three days. And it seems like from what I’ve heard today that the Coast Guard had a pretty good idea of what the Coast Guard was doing and as soon as you get a cutter in there you’ve got Command and Control even if we don’t have it say down to the MSST level, but at least a cutter could talk to the helos and the Sectors if the Sector exists anymore. What is it, from your point of view, and were you getting the information to make operational decisions from D-8 once communications went down?

CAPT Buschman: Well the D-8 District staff relocated to St. Louis so we always had reasonably good communications with them. The phone system that was in place there was a little bit overtaxed at first and that was quickly corrected. Other than that the reports from the front line, so to speak, from my perspective were very sketchy at first.

Q: How were those getting to you, those front line reports; what units were they coming from and how did they filter up to you?

CAPT Buschman: A lot of them via the Aviators and via the Aviator network I guess I would say.

Q: That’s the informal Aviator network or the informal one, or both?

CAPT Buschman:
Well I think the informal one is somewhat more than informal, you know reporting back to their air station because they’re mobile.

Q: After coming back and forth, yes.

CAPT Buschman: They can go back and forth. Admiral Duncan did not go to St. Louis. He went to Houston and so he could kind of go in and do a damage assessment shortly thereafter. When he could get into us, which was interesting because I think he had an Area cell phone, not just a District cell phone, so he was able to communicate. He could call us, we couldn’t call him, was basically that situation and he was eyes and ears, and then the Sector reconstituted as quickly as they could in Alexandria.

Q: Do you ever find yourself looking at CNN and saying, “Now that helo I think is here”?

CAPT Buschman: You’re right on the money. We had CNN and FOX. We had them all on in the Command Center, the IMT and in our offices and got, I think, a lot of the information that way, not good battlefield awareness but at least a sense of the level of Search and Rescue and a sense of how many people were actually left behind and stranded.

Q: Is there any suggestion that might be something you would look at in the future; to have your own eye in the sky in a situation like that over an urban environment just like they did but getting the information that you want, not necessarily what they want to put on the air?

CAPT Buschman: I have not gotten into those discussions but there are so many lessons learned and folks are working on that issue. Unfortunately on the heels of Katrina we had Ophelia and Rita so we haven’t really gotten out of this standup mode for hurricane crises. You know those two haven’t turned out as bad as feared so I think we’re just starting to get back into what I would call a normal rhythm here.

Q: Have you received – sorry I wasn’t able to check before we left Washington yesterday – whether any stations on the other side were affected by Rita as Gulfport was wiped out? Do we have stations in Cape Sabine and so forth? I mean the hurricane went right over it.

CAPT Buschman: Yes, we’ve got damage assessments on them. I think Sabine is probably the worst.

CAPT Teufel: There are a couple that have been impacted but none that were completely inoperable. 

Q: So they’ll be up and running fairly soon.

CAPT Buschman: They’re having some communications problems and our Communicator this morning wasn’t exactly sure what the problem was, whether it was a power supply or phone company problem. Our equipment seems to be in pretty good shape.

Q: Did you feel from an operations point of view that you had the resources to respond? Well you had Rita three weeks later. Let’s say there was an incident three days later. Would you have the capability to flow resources to it if you had to?

CAPT Buschman: If there was another major one we were . . . after the levee broke and we put in at one point I think the statistic was about 37 percent of our aviation resources. From an aviation point of view we were stretched very, very thin and we’re putting a lot of hours on these aircraft. So not only did you have a lot of them in the Katrina theater but we were starting to run up against the point where the expression is they turn into pumpkins because they have mandatory maintenance cycles they have to go into. I think you would have seen aircraft coming from PAC Area, maybe some more from the 9th District who could have shaken out but you could not have duplicated the effort in Katrina from an aviation point of view.

Q: And not just the frames but I would assume the crews as well.

CAPT Buschman: Our crews were wearing out so there’s a fatigue issue. There was also some other emotional issues from working at a fever pitch for awhile. The surface side I think we would have been better off.

Q: Yes.

CAPT Teufel: But that of course was also a balancing effort because JIATF South and Counter Narcotics continues. The AIMO flow has been very significant throughout the year.

CAPT Buschman: That’s an excellent point.

CAPT Teufel: So we continued to resource District 7 in that effort and then it’s still the summer time so along the eastern seaboard SAR efforts from an aviation and a surface perspective are still very significant. So if you pull resources it’s a zero sum gain. You pull resources from, let’s say District 5 with a cutter, to come down and replace a Straits of Florida cutter so the Straits of Florida cutter can go to District 8 and support disaster relief efforts, then somebody loses capability in that daisy chain of events and it’s a constant balancing to see who can absorb that loss and where can we best fit the resources we have. 

Q: We talked about this a little bit throughout the course of the day and after 9/11. For example, in D-8 the Admiral down there always wanted an MEC and couldn’t get it. Is there a sense that after this - you know of course they thought that District was also way too big when they took the Admiral out of St. Louis and all that - is that something that you would, as a Resource Manager, that you would recommend instead of using this flow model all the time in looking at these areas where you’ve had to call in an MEC every two or three years or something and just end up, you know, “Let’s just stick one there and get another one”, or “Get another one and put it there”? 

CAPT Buschman: I haven’t really considered it from that perspective. I mean the challenges; the other demands, as Captain Teufel said, in the other flows, he has an excellent point because when Katrina recovery operations were going on the number of Cuban migrants trying to get to the U.S. by maritime means burped up. 

Q: The Chief of Staff seems to think that that was not a coincidence.

CAPT Buschman: District 7 . . .

Q: Well District 7 doesn’t think it was a coincidence [chuckle].

CAPT Buschman: . . . is confident its not a coincidence that there were folks that noticed it and who also had family or friends communicate, “Now is the time the Coast Guard’s busy.”

Q: Yes.

CAPT Buschman: So I think the basic dilemma is there isn’t enough Coast Guard. 

Q: Well I guess what my question is, is if you stick a MEC in New Orleans for example is it just going to get dragged away into JIATF every summer for another operation or will the Coast Guard allow say a platform to stay in one place?

CAPT Buschman: No, right now the higher priority mission would be JIATF and then District 7.

Q: So even if you had that resource there permanently based it would still flow toward another mission?

CAPT Buschman: That’s correct.

Q: Yes, you’d still have the resources going here and there based on what season it was and what the mission was.

CAPT Teufel: A couple of assets that may help are the acquisition from the Navy; the WPC 179s, that may offer some short term assistance. They don’t replicate or replace a MEC but its some benefit with a little more speed, a little more legs than what had been there to assist in that D-8 arena. 

Q: Is it your sense that these kinds of not just . . . you know you’ve got the Deepwater technology side of it but in terms of the number of platforms, are these questions that they’re looking at or are they going to still be operating on this flow model once all these new vessels come on line in five or ten years?

CAPT Buschman: I don’t have a good answer to that question.

Q: What would your preference be Captain, Sir [chuckle]?

CAPT Buschman: Well my take away from this is a very strong belief there isn’t enough Coast Guard and someone else is going to have to decide through our processes whether that’s an actual statement or not. But even at the staff level we are not staffed for a protracted search operation like this. And to link up with our counterparts and keep everybody properly informed, which now include Northern Command as well as the Department, as well as their own chain of command, it is an extremely tiring exercise and there just aren’t that many folks to go around.

Q: I want to ask you a question more on the grounds of what was going on in that first week or so from an operational point of view. You provide guidance to aircrew, boat crew; all kinds of guidance for this whole issue of Force Protection and you know people are taking pot shots around it apparently at different forces and so forth. What kind of guidance was going into the field from your end of the house as to how they were supposed to protect themselves and respond to all of this?

CAPT Buschman: Well when the news reports came in about the violence or lack of structure and Admiral Duncan gave pretty vivid reports by teleconference to an audience that included the Atlantic Area, his staff as well as Headquarters’, Commandant included, our attorneys pretty quickly drafted a field version of force protection and we got our MSST folks and activated Port Security Units, many of which went along in flood punts and other small boats specifically for a show of force and force protection.

Q: So if they’ve got a hundred people waiting for a boat that’s only got ten places there’s somebody there to cover security.

CAPT Buschman: Well there were two problems they ran into. One: thugs; thugery I guess I would call it, and the other one are people that wanted to be rescued so badly that when you couldn’t get them all in there was a crowd control issue on keeping people calm. So I think officer presence, deterrence and then force protection were provided by the PSU and MSST folks.

Q: And in terms of who made decisions as to who got to go in the boat, is that left at the coxswain level?

CAPT Buschman: That was an on-scene decision.

Q: So it’s whoever is driving the boat that day makes that decision?

CAPT Buschman: Well certainly I would imagine the Sector command structure was giving some sort of guidance along those lines and then we had Command and Control conducted. Some of these units were under the TACON of the 270 that came into New Orleans eventually.

Q: Okay.

CAPT Buschman: But Atlantic Area, to my knowledge, did not give any specific instructions on who to pick up first and how to handle it.

Q: So if a BM3 had a question about that then they might have gone to the 270 or the Sector?

CAPT Buschman: He or she calls back to their Tactical Commander.

Q: And says, “Give me some guidance.”

CAPT Teufel: I would think you would want that direction coming at the tactical level with the commands on the scene as opposed to bumping it up to the Area. I mean with the exception of the overarching general guidance I think you want that situational awareness for the guys on the ground on those calls.

Q: I’ve just been going through some of the messages Sir coming into the Command Center Headquarters and you’re absolutely right, some of this stuff was coming from the street level; literally street level people getting on the phone and saying, you know, “My aunt’s a diabetic. She’s sitting in her attic”, and then five minutes later, “Well we’ve got a hundred people on a roof here”, and then two minutes later there would be . . . but then you have messages coming from somebody who knows somebody at DHS who says, “My sister-in-law is trapped”, and that goes down through the Chief of Staff’s office. So I don’t know and fortunately I think the response was, “Well call the Response Center like everybody else and we’ll get the next available platform out there.” But I don’t know if there are any hard guidances. Again, this is a completely new area that the Coast Guard’s operating in.

CAPT Buschman: Now we would pass on a specific request to the D-8 IMT.

Q: So all requests that came in, say from above, into Headquarters lets say . . .

CAPT Buschman: Well Headquarters would hopefully send it to the Atlantic Area IMT, which would subsequently send it to the D-8 IMT. I think initially - this is once again my perspective having not physically been there - there were so many people that needed to be rescued immediately that they were just plucking people off of roofs as quickly as they could go back and forth. At some point that transition to, “How do we make sure that we’re doing this in a more methodical way and we’re getting good Search and Rescue coverage”, a grid system was developed to make sure that before you move away from one area you’ve done a good job searching that area. In the meantime you’ve got to triage your urgent Search and Rescue cases and I think that’s an on-scene Tactical Commander level decision, and then other forces flowed in to coordinate with and that’s where this grid system came in very handy to make sure you weren’t duplicating efforts and doing things three times.

Q: And it was your understanding that that grid system was overlaying by the Sector or would it have been D-8?

CAPT Buschman: I was told it was developed by the Coast Guard and then adopted by DoD when they came on-scene.

Q: Okay.

CAPT Buschman: And I don’t know if that’s what you’ve heard also Bob.

CAPT Teufel: That is my understanding and in fact that grid system was applied to the really impacted area and used by all agencies that were involved in the SAR effort there.

Q: So there was some sensitivity not just in terms of rescuing people but to keep these assets somewhat segregated so that they’re not tripping over each other.

CAPT Buschman: That and also from Admiral Crea’s perspective. You know if you were in a normal Search and Rescue case you give a probability of coverage and detection and before you suspend the search you make darn sure it’s got maximum coverage. Well how do we do that in the urban environment? How do we tell her, “Okay, we had 25 helos fly over, is that good enough?” And I think this grid system was able to give a system approach to answering that question and people took it upon themselves to paint an “X” on a roof if that house is clean, so of speak, and which houses maybe someone still needs to go up and knock on the door to see if anybody’s in there.

Q: But this would have all been policy as it were that would have spun up 24-hours or 48-hours as they were learning these . . . 

CAPT Buschman: I think the “Xs” on the roofs were basically the ingenuity of the on-scene folks. I’m not sure you’re going to find that written anywhere. Maybe you will but not that I’m aware of.

Q: Right. Was there a point or has there been a point where the discussion shifted from this response mode to more long-term things like marine environmental?

CAPT Buschman: Oh absolutely.

Q: Are you in that mode now of, “What are we going to do with this 58 trillion gallons of stuff that starts flowing down the Gulf of Mexico?”

CAPT Buschman: Yes. That’s outside my prime portfolio but at some point it became very apparent that the frenetic Search and Rescue pace was going down. Ironically you were dealing with folks that needed to leave but didn’t want to leave or refused to leave and the Search and Rescue kind of morphed into making sure that every house was visited and some of the outlining areas weren’t forgotten. And then they had to be revisited to see if a day later they had changed their mind, which people started to do because they were getting dehydrated and hungry. But at that point we had very detailed conversations on the transition into Waterways Management, environmental issues and Aids to Navigation recovery because of the national impact that region has to our economy.

Q: Yes.

CAPT Buschman: My counterpart is Captain Kevin Cooke and his Deputy is Denny Hayes, a civilian employee. I don’t know if they’re on your list but they should be if they’re not. Actually Captain Cooke’s not in town.

Q: And he is from . . . ?

CAPT Buschman: He’s AM.

Q: Okay, yes.

CAPT Buschman: But you should have some AM folks on your interview list - Chris Done would be another good one - because that’s where they more or less became a more dominant . . . they were a partner up until this point and they became the more dominant partner when you switched into that part of the portfolio.

Q: Yes. And does Area provide any guidance in that realm? You might not be able to speak to this directly on questions like that, like, “It’s not safe to hang around here because we’ve got a Phosgene tank down on Third Street or something like that.

CAPT Buschman: Yes, there was a lot of medical guidance and personnel that came in, not just for that but because of mosquitoes and some of the sewage that was in the water, and also Coast Guard Strike Teams to kind of get a flavor for what kind of toxic materials would be in the water. I think it’s safe to say we had a very close partnership with the EPA to try to sort all this out. That overlaying the safety part is, I think, intertwined with the economic part of, “How quickly can this port get back in operation for petroleum products and other things that need to come and go from it?”

Q: Can you speak a bit, if we haven’t covered any area in particular, of what you found unique or particularly challenging about this response? Was it just a big hurricane or was there more to it because of these subsequent things like the Urban SAR and so forth that made it a unique event?

CAPT Buschman: I think it was more than a big hurricane, it was essentially losing a city. In reality that’s what happened and having people trapped that were logistically very hard to get to. Obviously communications are a part of any of these sorts of things but communications were dismal and I think it exposed all of the bureaucratic weaknesses in the structure of response between multiple government and non-governmental responders. From a Coast Guard only perspective, once again I think it exposed to me what a thin blue line we really are, both with our frontline responders and how sustainment is very difficult for us. The initial response, I think, we’re quite good at. The sustainment part is much more challenging and also how we are not ready to pulse in and immediately set up a Forward Operating Base. We kind of piecemeal it through very, very heroic efforts by individuals and I think we need to have a better plan to immediately launch in with a Forward Operating Base that can sustain units and set up these sort of communications that we’re talking about that just didn’t exist. 

Q: Is that even on the drawing board?

CAPT Buschman: There are projects on the Mobile Command Center. The Mobile Command Center project is more than just on the drawing board. In my mind’s eye I still think it’s a little disjointed. I think there needs to be more of a system approach that includes an actual operating base with people earmarked to go to that base and equipment earmarked to go to that base, and probably a command structure that goes into an area that’s been devastated like this.

Q: That’s completely separate from what might be there in say the Sector or the District?

CAPT Buschman: Well it either augments or replaces the command structure that’s been disbursed. I think that would be a matter for debate. But once again, all of the staffs are lean. In a minimum they need to be augmented and you need to be able to operate at this pace for a protracted period of time and not all be worn out after 24 or 48-hours.

Q: Yes. Did you see the Sector activities, these post-9/11 structures, more effective than say what the Coast Guard had pre-9/11 in responding to this?

CAPT Buschman: I can’t. You know because of the nature of this response I don’t know. I think you’d have to ask the folks on-scene. I’m not sure. I think it was nice to have one-stop shopping to a CO who has responsibility for everything. Whether or not his tactical units responded any better I simply don’t know.

Q: Any final thoughts Captain Sir?

CAPT Teufel: I just thought the enormity of the disaster and the speed with which it occurred, despite the fact that the hurricane had swept over the Florida peninsula, was still pretty dog gone quick to develop and then certainly it was rapid in it’s buildup to the magnitude of the storm that swept through the Louisiana and Mississippi area. When you have a situation like that I think the mechanisms that are in place for other government agencies, other than folks like the Coast Guard that are prepared to just roll in and get things done, the mechanisms that are in place to provide support to the lead federal agency in a structured manner can quickly be overwhelmed. If there is not a pace set where assets are prepositioned, where forces are prepositioned, then the ability to respond right now is really pretty tough to come up with and I think we certainly saw that. I mean the Navy had the [USS] Bataan down there because Bataan had been participating in Panamex; an exercise, and it did have a few rotary wing assets onboard but some were heavy lifters. You know they’re [heavy lift helos] not suited for SAR efforts. So even with a ship being in place, having some assets onboard, there’s still a mechanism, there is still a process particularly for DoD to ensure the right response is provided and if it’s not pre-greased and prepped to respond and deploy then it does take some amount of time. 

Q: Yes, to spin it back up.

CAPT Teufel: Right.

Q: Captain, any final thoughts?

CAPT Buschman: No, thank you.

Q: I appreciate your contribution very much Sir. It’s been very enlightening. I would have thought that when they knew that this might happen that somebody would have done the math and said, you know, “Half a million rooftops times five or ten people, an H-60 could take about 20 at time at the most”, and would of thought, you know, “Here comes a catastrophe.”

CAPT Teufel: From a personal perspective I worked disaster relief at USACOM in the mid-to-late 90s and I think there’s generally an expectation that there is, at the local and state governmental levels, the initial responder with a Municipal Evacuation Plan that is going to have a little more traction than we saw and that maybe you’re not going to have half a million people or a quarter of a million people on their roofs, that there will be some movement to a place where you can extract and render assistance in a more effective manner than what we saw. Now that’s just a personal thought.

Q: Well thank you captains, I appreciate it very much. 

CAPT Buschman: Alright.

END OF INTERVIEW


Last Modified 11/17/2014