U.S. Coast Guard Health Services Responders in Maritime Homeland Security

By French, Arthur J.; DiRenzo, Joe, III et al. | Naval War College Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

U.S. Coast Guard Health Services Responders in Maritime Homeland Security


French, Arthur J., DiRenzo, Joe, III, Doane, Chris, Naval War College Review


Superior operational service is our core purpose, and we have long been recognized as the world's best Coast Guard. America expects that we will bring the same level of professionalism and maritime leadership to the war on terrorism that we have traditionally brought to all our other missions.

ADMIRAL THOMAS H. COLLINS, USCG

Unlike most other federal agencies, the Coast Guard is a true first-response organization, with statutory authority and responsibilities that allow responses following a disaster without waiting for a Stafford Act declaration of state request for assistance. This ability and expectation have been lauded in the public press critiques of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. As an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, the lead federal department for responses to terrorism and natural disasters, the Coast Guard must maintain capabilities to respond to terrorism and all-hazard incidents in the maritime and coastal regions. Katrina demonstrated that medical first responders are integral players during catastrophic incidents in addition to search and rescue (SAR) responders. In terms of response planning and execution, Coast Guard health service personnel are an untapped resource.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been leading an effort incorporating all levels of government and the private sector to build a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to minimize the risk of terrorism to the United States. Much of the department's and Coast Guard's efforts have focused on threat and vulnerability-that is, preventing terrorist attacks. We must also ensure that an appropriate investment in mass casualty response capabilities is made to minimize the consequences of a terrorist attack, transportation security incident, or natural disaster. This article will examine maritime consequence management and a proposal for using the Coast Guard's health services personnel as an integral resource for its responsibilities under the National Response Plan.

The Coast Guard has also focused on prevention in its efforts to secure the U.S. maritime domain. For over fifty years the Coast Guard has been charged with overarching responsibility for the safety and security of American ports and waterways. The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 underlined the service's role as the lead federal agency for maritime security. Since 9/11 it has produced outstanding results. The nation's maritime transportation system is far more secure than it was on 11 September 2001, and the improvement continues.

For over two centuries, the Coast Guard has been charged with lead responsibilities for maritime consequence management; in fact, most people think of the Coast Guard in connection with maritime searches and daring, dramatic rescues. Today this role in maritime SAR has been codified in aNational Search and Rescue Plan. Similarly, the Coast Guard has long been responsible for marine environmental protection and response; that role too has been formalized, in the National Contingency Plan developed in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. This plan makes the Coast Guard the lead federal agency for responding to oil spills and hazardous material releases, including intentional chemical or biological releases, in the coastal zone-that is, all tidally influenced waters and adjacent waterfronts.

The service's responsibilities as a lead agency involve not just federal agencies but state and local governments as well. This fact has given the Coast Guard a collective "persona" unique among federal agencies-that of a true first-response organization, whose assets arrive on scene alongside, if not ahead of, those of local agencies and operate in full partnership with the local response community. For many states and municipalities, the Coast Guard is the primary resource for security, search, and rescue response on the water. The Katrina response demonstrated that the Coast Guard may also be the primary or, in some cases, the only first responder in coastal communities devastated by a disaster. …

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U.S. Coast Guard Health Services Responders in Maritime Homeland Security
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