As Hurricane Gustav tracked decidedly towards the Gulf Coast, the United States Coast Guard prepared to fulfill its mission to protect the public, the environment, and the United States economic and security interests during any and all situations. A critical tool for Coast Guard response is Rescue 21, the Coast Guard’s advanced command, control and communications system.
To assure continuity of operations during and after this Hurricane, command and control of Sector New Orleans’ (NOLA) Rescue 21 systems (the Coast Guard’s “maritime 911” system) were rerouted to the Coast Guard Operations Systems Center (OSC) Martinsburg in West Virginia.
Sector NOLA planned to evacuate at 8:00 p.m. local time on August 31. However, due to conditions on the ground and impending activity, Sector NOLA moved up evacuations to noon.
Despite the accelerated timeline, all transitioned systems were operational on August 31, and OSC Martinsburg began standing watch as of 8:00 p.m. that day. This feature of Rescue 21 permits watchstanders to see and communicate from a distance, just as if they were standing the watch at their home Sector.
This continuity of operations plan enabled Sector New Orleans to evacuate all personnel to safety, while still maintaining command and control of its region via Rescue 21 from a remote location.
As a result of flooding and network issues related to Hurricane Gustav, four of the nine Rescue 21 towers lost communications with the network, however the majority of the towers remained operational with overlapping coverage to provide key communications. Immediately following the passage of the storm, watchstanders also provided critical radio guard for aircraft patrols and broadcast urgent safety messages to the maritime public. All towers were back in operation in just over a week due to the design and disaster response capabilities of Rescue 21.
Sector New Orleans personnel returned to their command center and re-established the watch during the evening of September 2. The Rescue 21 virtual command center at OSC Martinsburg stood down shortly thereafter.
The virtual command center at OSC Martinsburg was made possible by close collaboration with Coast Guard system and network engineers, the operations community, Rescue 21 project staff, and the General Dynamics Corporation (the project’s prime contractor).
To provide staffing for systems operations, Sector NOLA sent up two communications watchstanders with specific experience in the sector’s Area of Responsibility (AOR), and additionally identified several local members and Coast Guard staff to support activities.
In addition to Coast Guard’s Eighth District, support came from the Coast Guard’s Fifth District at Sector Hampton Roads in Virginia, as well as Coast Guard headquarters’ staffs in the the Office of C4 & Sensors Capabilities, the Rescue 21 Training Team and the Rescue 21 Project Office under the Assistant Commandant for Acquisitions.
Always ready, the United States Coast Guard, with its new Rescue 21 capabilities, never stopped protecting our nation – before, during, and after this powerful storm.