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U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program

Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Interviewee: CAPT Bradley Jacobs, USCG

Chief of Operational Forces for Atlantic Area

Interviewer: PACS Peter J. Capelotti, USCGR
Date of Interview:  28 September 2005
Place: Atlantic Area Command Center, Portsmouth, Virginia 


Discussion of the pre-planning steps taken by the Coast Guard for any natural disaster including the necessity to ensure the Area assets are out of the way of the storm so that they are able to return to provide assistance. Captain Jacobs discussed the coordination with the “Navy Weather people” to determine how early Coast Guard cutters and air craft should depart and where they should be pre-positioned so as to ensure there is a broad menu to chose from when it is necessary to provide assistance. The tasking of these assets was handed over to the Eighth District and they decided as to where the assets would be positioned. As was observed with Hurricane Katrina, Coast Guard aircraft were determined to be the best immediate response asset. With communications wiped out in the Gulf Coast area, the larger cutters served as the communication platforms and provided command and control for the smaller ships and boats participating in the rescue efforts.


“. . .pretty amazing response by the Coast Guard in terms of the people just jumping to it and got right on it. . . flexibility of the organization and the initiative basically we give our people was extremely helpful . . . get the job done first and then worry about other things later . . . that was a big factor in our successful response to Katrina and Rita.” 

Q: Captain Sir, if you could give me your rank, your name, and spell your last name please Sir.

CAPT Jacobs: Captain Bradley Jacobs, J-A-C-O-B-S.

Q: And your position here Sir?

CAPT Jacobs: Chief of Operational Forces for Atlantic Area

Q: And how long have you been in this position and what were your two or three assignments before this?

CAPT Jacobs: I’ve been in the position a little over one year. I got here a year ago last July. Previously to that I was assigned as the Chief of the Future Operations Division at U.S. Northern Command out in Colorado Springs. Before that I did a few years up at Coast Guard Headquarters as the Operations Program Coordinator for the R&D Program and before that I was Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard cutter Courageous for a couple of years.

Q: Alright.  I had a couple things that I wanted to follow up on from yesterday’s chats and I wanted your perspective as the Operations Chief; of the preplanning that goes into setting up, not just for this situation but for any hurricane type situation. Can you walk me through that and give me a sense of what you do from the operations scene when you see a depression turning into a hurricane and it comes up on your radar screen?

CAPT Jacobs: Okay, when we see one of them coming up you sort of get an eye for where it’s moving and the first thing we worry about is getting our assets out of the way of it, because if you’re going to flow anything back in for relief efforts obviously it can’t be part of the disaster. So we look at the major cutters, aircraft, Marine Safety and Security teams; all the area units, and look at what’s the best place for them to go, how early should they go, where should they go, and then work it from there. We get a lot of coordination with the Navy weather people and the METOC folks, particularly for the major cutters, as they’ll tell you where the best evasion paths are and where you should sail, and then we’ll work it from there.

Q: And you’d be a bellybutton say between the Navy weather guys and our cutter forces?

CAPT Jacobs: Yes, we work with the individual cutters and the Navy. It’s sort of a three-way thing getting there. We’ll discuss . . . my cutter staff will be working with the major cutters in determining, “Okay, when should you go?”

Q: Presumably the Navy is doing the same thing.

CAPT Jacobs: Yes, they’ll sortie the fleet and things like that but that’s almost independent of us. We generally have to leave a lot earlier than the fleet because we don’t move as fast.

Q: Okay, right.

CAPT Jacobs: And then the same thing with the aircraft; the aviation section. We’ll be working with air stations figuring out where everything’s going, when it’s going, where they’re going to position the aircraft so that they can flow back in afterwards.

Q: And that flow back in when a hurricane hits; a situation like this, are there any discussions beforehand? In this case and probably a lot of other cases where you’ve got large land areas, which usually aren’t a Coast Guard responsibility that are now underwater, is there any discussion of what the demarcation is going to be? I mean how are we going to cover those areas; either with helicopters or small boats or whatever?

CAPT Jacobs: Well it’s hard to really say before a hurricane hits because you just don’t know what they’re going to do. You don’t know what they’re going to flood or what they’re going to wreck so it’s hard to come up with exact plans of who’s going to do what. What we generally will try is just position enough resources so that you’ve got a broad menu to choose from. Like for example, for Rita we prepositioned an awful lot of aircraft beyond the organic district resources and we found that very helpful . . . from our experiences in Katrina where we have to flow a lot of aircraft to support the organic resources, that that was very handy to have. Aircraft are probably your best immediate response in a hurricane like this when you’ve got flooded areas because they can get in there, they can pick people up and they can move relatively long distances to a drier area. So aircraft are probably your best bet right away. And after that it’s pretty much see what the damage is, see what got flooded and then you choose from the resources that you either prepositioned or that you have available elsewhere and move them in in a relatively staged manner - process of waves if you want to say that - of resources. But I mean that was particularly done for Katrina because obviously based on the lessons of Katrina a lot more prepositioning was done for Rita. But we found with Katrina it still worked fairly well; the fact that we had stuff moved outside the area and it came back in and then we were just able to draw other resources. One of the advantages of the area as a Force Provider is that it can broker and draw resources from out of Atlantic Area rather than just relying on one district. So we said, “Okay, we need more of this so we’ll pull some of these and move them here to get aircraft, Marine Safety and Security teams.” The major cutters, those were relatively easy to pull back in because we generally will move them behind a storm and be able to flow back in behind the storm if you need them and if you don’t they just go back to their homeports.

Q: Do you have visibility down to say small boat stations? I’ve never seen one of these Coast Guard airboats before; things like this. Do you know those are out there before a situation like this or is that something that’s handled at the sector level?

CAPT Jacobs: That’s handled at a much lower level then us.

Q: So you guys can move aviation/cutter resources around but anything like that’s going to be handled at a much lower level.

CAPT Jacobs: Yes. Now some of the out of district DARTs and things like that will be dealt with . . . the MLC handles a lot because a lot of those are based – and I may be not exactly accurate – a lot of those are based at ISCs and things like that, so the MLC does a lot of that kind of movement.

Q: But the mid-western river floods and things like that, that would all be handled at that level.

CAPT Jacobs: To the degree that they’re dealing with that level of resource. Now if they needed, say for example a Marine Safety and Security Team, that’s an Area unit, or they needed some LEDETs as we pulled into New Orleans for security purposes, those are area units and that’s what we move.

Q: But you’ve got the pulse of those things; you know where those things are.

CAPT Jacobs: Oh yes, I know where they are and what their readiness is and who’s up first and what’s broken and what’s movable.

Q: Would this response to Katrina have been that much different in the old divided command world or did the activity sector’s world that sort of evolved after that, did that make a difference in the response?

CAPT Jacobs: That’s at a level lower than me and I really don’t have a lot of visibility into that, because again, I said I was dealing with area resources and we had the areas for a long time and really those resources are outside of sector controls. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve got one command or not because the area controls where those go and if we need to pull them from one area . . . for example we stripped out cutters out of JIATF in counter-drugs to move them in for hurricane relief. We do that. That’s really outside the Sector-Activities type thing.

Q: Of the area resources where did you feel the most stress?

CAPT Jacobs: In terms of where we pulled things out of?

Q: Yes.

CAPT Jacob: Probably the counter-drug down in JIATF and then to some degree in the 7th District; the migrant interdiction. But most of the pain was felt out of JIATF.

Q: Have those forces flowed back or are they still in response mode?

CAPT Jacobs: We are still in the response mode for Rita. We have not flowed everything back that would flow back. That will happen over the next several weeks.

Q: Once a response like this is underway and you’ve combined air and boat operations, who is responsible for coordinating where all the Coast Guard assets go and where? Once you task say something of JIATF to go to D-8, who do you pass that off to?

CAPT Jacobs: We hand them off to D-8.

Q: Okay, so D-8.

CAPT Jacobs: In this case when the major cutters, when we pulled them, we just told them, “Report here. Change your TACON to the 8th Coast Guard District” at a certain point and then it’s their responsibility in where they want to exactly send them, although we will become involved from time to time on with some direction, guidance from on high, as to say, “Well you might want to consider putting this here instead of there.” But generally we let them determine where they need the resources once we give them to them.

Q: Were there resources that you needed that you couldn’t readily call on or were there things that you needed that you would have liked to have had more of?

CAPT Jacobs: No, actually I think we did fairly well in terms of having the right number of resources. From things I saw I think we had a real good mix. Now I could have done with some more major cutters just so I didn’t have to strip out other mission areas but all in all we had a pretty robust response.

Q: You’ve got this flowing of resources back and forth, which is what Area does. Is that a good model or would the Coast Guard prefer to have a MEC all the time in New Orleans or something like that, or is it easier to move these resources around situationally like this?

CAPT Jacobs: I think it’s much easier to move them around. Pre-stationing resources like that for the potential of a major natural disaster would not be very effective or efficient use of your resources just because for the vast majority of the year they would just sit there and do basically nothing. We are very flexible. It gives you force multiplication and you can pull things from one thing to the other rather then having them try to dedicate for individual missions. We’d need a lot more resources if we were going to set up our structure that way.

Q: Yes.

CAPT Jacobs: And we were very flexible. We’ve done it very quickly. We had things moving in on-scene, you know, well the aircraft literally within hours of the event happening and the cutters flow relatively quickly after that, that they generally show up just about the right time when they figured out can they even get up through the waterways. That takes a couple days to figure out if it’s safe to proceed.

Q: Yes, I’m glad you brought that up because it seems that there’s . . . well this activity sector, you attempt to bridge the “M” and the “O” community. How much of that; this new maritime homeland security structure the Coast Guard has stood up, how much of that came into play in this situation?

CAPT Jacobs: Well here at the Area it came into play that we worked really closely with the “M” people throughout this thing. It was just a continual basis in developing the responses, working with those folks; what their needs were. For example, some of the waterway’s management stuff. A lot of the major cutters ended up basically filling in for VTSs and things like that that were down.

Q: But does the “M” guy come to you and say, “I don’t have communications here or I need this.” How does that work?

CAPT Jacobs: It’s a lot less informal than that. It’s like there’s no set process. It’s just generally we get together and discuss . . . there’s general empathy. If you go up in IMT there’s “M” people up there, Ops people up there. We were having constant meetings.

Q: So everybody’s sort of seeing the same stuff and deciding, “We need to move this here or do something over here”.

CAPT Jacobs: Yes, it’s sort of brokered on a basis like that.

Q: Was there a sense at some point in this when it became, you know the aviation response slowed and you started to enter everybody’s consciousness that this was going to be a very long term “M” response incident?

CAPT Jacob: Oh yes, we’re already in that point pretty much in Rita.

Q: Yes.

CAPT Jacobs: And then we’re certainly in that point in Katrina.

Q: Is there a sense that resources are going to have to be devoted to that over the long term?

CAPT Jacobs: Yes, there’s going to be some and then it’s moving more to a single focus and the Ops type people are pulling out of it because now it’s a question of coming up with those people that have that very specialized training that you just can’t pluck out of anywhere because that’s intense training, and we’re starting to draw down on the aircraft, the cutters and the Marine Safety and Security teams while the “M” guys try to figure out, “Okay, where do we get more Strike Team members, where do we get more people with the kind of training to monitor the commercial cleanups of the pollution cases?”

Q: And the Strike Force; National Response Force, that’s all Headquarters’ controlled, is that right? Who flows those guys into that situation?

CAPT Jacobs: You’re getting into an area pretty much outside my expertise. You know I know they exist. I know what they do but it’s a world that’s separate from my own so I really don’t have a lot of visibility into who pulls the trigger on those guys. I just know they move and they show up in a certain area and they do their thing.

Q: Yes. From your point of view what made this situation, if it did, unique or different or more challenging, or less so than other situations?

CAPT Jacobs: I think one of the things that made it the most challenging was just the scale of the event. You know it’s been pretty well discussed of how massive this thing was and, you know, a hundred year storm or a five hundred year storm, I don’t know, but just to have that huge of a hurricane hit that major size population area with the particular difficulties that that area has of being built in basically a bowl that’s below sea level, that just magnified everything. So I think that made it more challenging than most hurricanes we’ve dealt with for a long, long time.

Q: And the specific challenges; communications, how much visibility did you have? Were communications what you would have wanted them and . . . ?

CAPT Jacobs: Well no because basically when the storm went through it wiped out the communications grids down there; you know, phones, high sites for radio communications, computer networks, everything just disappeared.

Q: How do you flow communications in there?

CAPT Jacobs: Well one way we did it is, again, the major cutters came in very handy because they bring a self-contained communications platform in radios, their own computer systems, you know, all that goes with them, so they served as a communications platform that you could actually get a hold of, contact somebody and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Here’s what’s going on.” They provide the Command and Control for a lot of the small boats that were trying to do rescue ops. They had somebody they could actually talk to and then say, “Yes, you go here, you go there, you do this”, and that sort of thing, so that’s one way we started to overcome almost the total loss of communications. The other way – and I can only touch on this because again, it’s an area more outside my expertise – was the “T” folks with their mobile communication vans. They were flowing those in and setting those up and trying to reestablish some communications networks. And then our folks at the MLC were trying to find every Iridium phone that they could possibly find and get it over there because those things came in very handy because when your cell towers and stuff like that are down the Sat lines are still working.

Q: But all of that; the satellite communications that the Coast Guard owns, would all come out of MLC, is that right?

CAPT Jacobs: Well now there are some; the local units have some but the scale of the response that was needed required more phones than they have organic to them so they were trying to find more and more of those to flow them in.

Q: How would that request go? Let’s say D-8 says, “Look, I need 50 of these things because we can’t talk to anybody. We’ve got guys running around blind.” How do they send that request?

CAPT Jacobs: Now as I understand it, it would ideally flow from their IMT who would then relay that to MLC, the logistic center that they’ve got over there and then they would go to work and try to arrange, “Okay, what can we fill, where can we get it and how do we get it there?”

Q: Great.

CAPT Jacobs: So we try to do most stuff through the IMT so you had a single point that was aware of what was going on and what requests were active.

Q: Any additional comments, observations from your seat Sir?

CAPT Jacobs: No, I think that pretty much wraps it up. It was a pretty amazing response by the Coast Guard, I think, in terms that the people just jumped to it and got right on it and I think it’s the flexibility of the organization and the initiative basically we give our people, which was extremely helpful. People were, you know, “Let’s get the job done first and then worry about other things later”, and I think that was a big factor in our successful response to Katrina and Rita.

Q: Well Sir, I want to thank you very much for taking the time.

CAPT Jacobs: My pleasure.

Q: Thank you Sir.


Last Modified 1/12/2016