Coast Guard Trains for Disaster Response in Alaska

Members of the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, Alaska, Incident Management Team for the Alaska Shield 2014 exercise examine data during a morning meeting March 31, 2014.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Coast Guard personnel took their positions and a dozen computer screens flickered to life as reports of a massive earthquake and tsunamis began to trickle in from throughout Alaska. For seven days, Sector Anchorage personnel making up an Incident Management Team worked to save lives, restore security and rebuild infrastructure during Alaska Shield 2014, a disaster response exercise simulating the infamous Good Friday earthquake that struck 76 miles east of Anchorage in 1964.

The Alaska Shield 2014 exercise was part of the National Exercise Program’s Capstone Exercise 2014 and required the Sector Anchorage IMT to react to a series of challenges they would likely face in the event of a real disaster. Accounting for personnel, responding to pollution and search and rescue and reestablishing commerce and the flow of supplies through damaged ports were all part of the process of recovering from the earthquake. 

“During the exercise, the Sector IMT enacted contingency plans which would be used during an actual emergency response,” said Lt. Matthew Mitchell, command center chief, Sector Anchorage. “Emergency action plans which the Coast Guard has in place with communities throughout Alaska were tested as well as pollution response contingency plans, our port recovery plan and protocols in place to request additional Coast Guard resources.”

Alaska Shield 2014 led directly into the Joint Logistics Over the Shore exercise, a training scenario designed to test the ability of local, state and federal response agencies to respond to the same disaster using modern equipment and techniques, and to accomplish their goal of restoring ports damaged in the simulated earthquake, the IMT was responsible for dispatching Coast Guard crews to conduct depth surveys and repairs to aids to navigation. However, reestablishing port operations was only half of the task. 

A distinct aspect of any Coast Guard sector’s role in emergency response comes from the duties of the sector commander and, in his role as Federal Maritime Security Coordinator, Capt. Paul Mehler, commander, Sector Anchorage, had the task of ensuring vital ports and maritime facilities were protected and capable of providing services to vessels delivering relief and response equipment. 

“Maintaining the security of ports, fuel piers and other maritime facilities vital for commerce is a necessity for the people of Alaska, especially for rural communities who receive up to 90 percent of their goods through the port of Anchorage alone,” said Mehler. “This mission can become even more important during a disaster when threats to these facilities can impact the flow of relief and response equipment to communities in need of rescue.”

Agencies involved in disaster response can never be too prepared and, at the end of the exercise, Sector Anchorage personnel gathered to discuss the results of their work, areas for improvement and positive impacts from the training. 

“A major advantage for us coming out of Alaska Shield 2014 was the successful enhancement and testing of joint contingency communications systems allowing federal, state, local and tribal agencies to pass information quickly to one another,” Mitchell said. “The ability to communicate efficiently is absolutely vital during any crisis and having one designated frequency for all agencies to share will prove invaluable to future responses.”

“Resilience, the ability to recover from actual or potential adverse events, comes with practice - whether it’s by experiencing actual disasters or through participation in exercises,” said exercise evaluator, John Farthing, contingency planning and force readiness division, Sector Anchorage. “Exercises like this one are vital tools for Sector Anchorage to fortify unit resilience while advancing the cohesive response coalition we share with all of our partners in Alaska.”

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