The science of safety

Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst

"Take it slow and safe,"

The motto, “Take it slow and safe,” adorns the scientific planning board on the Coast Guard Cutter Healy while underway in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 9, 2013.

Inside the thick red hull of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a multitude of crewmembers, scientists and support staff hustle to and fro, performing their various jobs in preparation for the operation Arctic Shield 2013 technology demonstration.

The 420-foot icebreaker reached its destination amidst the ice floes of the cold Arctic waters, and everyone is eager to begin deploying the five unique technologies aboard that could have the ability to enhance oil detection and recovery capabilities in the Arctic.

Before the teams can begin their scientific adventure, coordinated by the Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center, there is one very important step in the process that must be completed: the demonstration readiness review.

unmanned underwater vehicle

Hanu Singh, a scientist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, explains the process to put the institute’s unmanned underwater vehicle into the water to Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Gangl, a boatswain’s mate aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, during a simulated oil spill recovery exercise walkthrough in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 9, 2013.

While the cutter boasts an effective climate control system, outside the inhospitable environment threatens anything not native to the far north. It may be early September, but the wind chill keeps the temperature well below freezing. Frozen ridges stick up at random from the thin sheets of ice at the 74° 35’ north latitude. On deck, a light snow coated the grey decks overnight. Coupled with the inherent danger of the heavy equipment necessary to deploy and recover the various technologies, an extreme regard for safety is vital to anyone involved in the operation.

“Before the actual exercise even begins, we have a demonstration readiness review,” said Lt. Brent Fike, the operational safety officer for the Research and Development Center. “This allows everyone involved to rehearse their intended procedures at a slow and safe pace, to get everyone on the same page.”

The walkthrough gives the Healy’s crew a chance to work with the scientists and gain an understanding of the equipment and the process necessary to maneuver it for operations on the day of the actual exercise.

skimmer system

Petty Officer 1st Class James Maida, a boatswain’s mate with the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team, helps other Strike Team members handle part of a skimmer system used to recover oil from water while underway in the Arctic Ocean aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy Sept. 9, 2013.

Besides familiarization with the heavy equipment operations, the walkthrough gives everyone involved a chance to work all the kinks out of the communication system.

“Communications is a cornerstone to the safe execution of any operation or test,” said Lt. Cmdr. Tom Hickey, the communications director for the Research and Development Center. “Utilizing the ship’s standardized communication process was instrumental for the success of the demonstration.”

Members of the Healy’s deck department are assigned as liaisons to each of the technology deployment and recovery locations to assist with moving equipment and keeping an eye on everyone participating. The deck supervisors employed a system of radios to ensure swift and clear communications between different stations and the deck watch officer on the cutter’s bridge.

“Our crew is excited to be a part of the Coast Guard’s environmental stewardship mission in the Arctic,” said Capt. John Reeves, commanding officer, Coast Guard Cutter Healy. “Before we start testing equipment, ensuring that both the crew and our many passengers are safe is our number one priority.”

After a successful day of safety preparations, the crew and passengers headed to bed ready for the next day’s oil spill exercise. Check back here for an update and photos of the exercise!

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