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Coast Guard Emergency Management Acts as Valuable Force Multiplier During Crises

The U.S. Coast Guard Office of Emergency Management & Disaster Response (OEM) excels in crisis leadership, planning, organizing, and training to respond to incidents during crises. Their efforts focus on domestic national response while also supporting the development of response management systems in the international community. The office is organized under the current National Response Framework (NRF) while building upon the established National Response System – the federal system for emergency response and coordination of oil and chemical discharges into U.S. waterways and the environment. Today, the Coast Guard’s OEM maintains policy and capabilities to respond to all types of hazards.

What Is Emergency Management?

To the United States government, emergency management is a function that coordinates and integrates all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, or mitigate against threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, accidents, or other manmade disasters.

Federal Authority

The USCG’s role in dealing with emergencies is outlined in Section 753 of 6 the U.S. Code under Federal Preparedness. This section requires all federal departments and agencies to be prepared to respond to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other manmade disaster. Cumulatively, to the federal government, these types of disasters fall under the rubric of “all-hazards.”

Incident Management Teams

Coast Guard Incident Management Teams (IMT) are organized using the National Incident Management Systems (NIMS), which operates through the Incident Command System (ICS). They are made up of highly trained, readily deployable manpower who can assist with management experience of various incidents. The organizational elements of the ICS are the position titles and responsibilities that describe the key positions in this standardized response management system. For example, an IMT will normally have an Incident Commander, with standardized support positions that include a public information officer, safety officer, liaison officer (to outside agencies), and other key officers such as planning, logistics, finance, communications, investigations, etc.

Command Structure

The Coast Guard is geographically organized by areas, districts, and sectors (largest command), each having specific readiness requirements to support incident management activities. These commands maintain several IMTs. Sectors are required to maintain an IMT, and districts and areas maintain and staff a NIMS Area Command (AC) to manage multiple incidents occurring within their Area of Responsibility (AOR) or an IMT as applicable when managing an incident or event. The purpose of an AC is to oversee the management of an exceptionally large or overly complex incident that impacts a broad area, focusing primarily on strategic assistance and direction, and resolve competition for scarce response resources. An AC is activated depending on the complexity of the incident. An IMT will usually deploy within their specific AOR, but also are deployable anywhere in the United States, and sometimes are sent internationally. 

Team Member Participation

The Coast Guard is one of the few first responder federal agencies; as such, each Coast Guard member either is the first responder or supports the Coast Guard’s first response operations. Because of this, service members who are part of an IMT will have met certain required competencies, based on prudent screening of an individual’s experience, judgment, maturity, and satisfactory completion of mandatory training and personnel qualification standard (PQS) requirements. Once assigned to an IMT, they will help that team maintain readiness requirements; this includes maintaining excellent proficiency in NIMS.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary also participates in the IMT and maintain an Incident Management Auxiliary Coordinating Cell (IMACC), which is a type of command-and-control entity for Auxiliary deployments, role, and accountability during a real-world incident response. Auxiliary members can provide incident management, logistic, and operational support (sea, land and air) during major incidents, natural disasters, or large-scale planned events.

National Leadership

The USCG’s OEM command comes under the Assistant Commandant for Response Policy based in Washington, D.C. This office has a mission area that includes law enforcement, counterterrorism and defense operations, search and rescue, contingency exercises, and incident management and preparedness. It is under this latter mission area that the Office of Incident Management and Preparedness is organized. Their role is to lead the development of incident management and preparedness doctrine, policy, and guidelines for all Coast Guard missions.

National Preparedness

The IMTs participate in training and emergency preparedness coordination activities with federal, state, territorial and tribal authorities, and local emergency management organizations. Such activities help facilitate and build the nation’s response community network by understanding relevant emergency operation and response plans and organizations, and by collaborating with counterparts across the country. Coast Guard activities in emergency management help provide continuity, experience, and leadership as a force multiplier for America’s response to disasters and incidents of all sizes.

Shelomo Alfassa
Shelomo Alfassa is Director of Communications and a homeland security analyst for VIRSIG, LLC. He has worked in Public Safety for 25 years and has served with FEMA on several deployments as Deputy Commander of a national CBRN team (G8 Summit, the Atlanta Olympics, etc.). He is a member of the Government Affairs Committee of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM). He serves on an ASTM International committee on Homeland Security Applications and is a vetted member of the FBI InfraGard program. Alfassa has been a speaker at events such as the N.Y. State Emergency Managers Conference; ISC-EAST; and has appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. He is a Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in Jacksonville, Florida, where he is also a Sector Jacksonville Emergency Operations Center Agency Representative. Alfassa’s education includes a Harvard Business School post-graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business Strategy; a BA in Homeland Security and a Masters in Public Administration. He is the author of the book, “Essays in American Public Safety and Emergency Management.”

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