Arctic Chinook 2016
Posted by PA1 Bill Colclough, Friday, September 2, 2016
There are “uncharted waters,” and there are uncharted waters up through the Northwest Passage. At the intersection of geography and interests, the Arctic represents a light flashing yellow to increased levels of human activity. A danger foreseen is half-avoided, goes a Native American proverb, unless a cruise ship or other large vessel is already half-way to the Arctic Circle far, far away from help if danger strikes.
If an incident occurred requiring a mass rescue operation in the Arctic, nations would have to respond to potential unknown areas where the population, infrastructure and available resources are measured in glaciers and polar bears, if any.
To prepare for the unthinkable in the unforgiveable and unknowable Arctic regions, the Coast Guard, Alaskan Command and other state, federal, local and international partners conducted the exercise Arctic Chinook 2016 in Kotzebue, Alaska, Aug. 22-25.
Arctic Chinook is a joint Coast Guard and U.S. Northern Command-sponsored exercise on the U.S. Department of State-approved list of Arctic Council Chairmanship events. The exercise scenario consisted of an adventure-class cruise ship with approximately 250 passengers and crew that experiences an incident which degrades to become a catastrophic event. The exercise simulated a decision to abandon ship resulting in passengers and crew with a mix of critical, serious and minor injuries, as well as the deployment of life rafts.
The exercise is built upon the tabletop exercise Arctic Zephyr Tabletop exercise series by exercising elements of the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement: interoperability, cooperation, information sharing, SAR services, and joint exercise review, through the conduct of an international and interagency Arctic mass rescue operation live field training exercise.
The Coast Guard Cutters Stratton, Alex Haley and SPAR simulated the role of disabled vessel, while an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew from Coast Guard Forward Operating Location Kotzebue conducted medevac hoists of injured and uninjured passengers from the cutters.
Coast Guard aircrews transported role players simulating injured passengers and uninjured passengers to Kotzebue during the third day of the exercise on Aug. 24. A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak HC-130 aircraft and crew delivered an arctic sustainment package to the participants in Kotzebue. The package is an air-droppable tent shelter that can house 25 people, and some packages can house up to 200.
“This is one of the first opportunities we’ve had to exercise our International Maritime Search and Rescue Agreement forged between the Arctic Council nations,” said Rear Adm. Michael F. McAllister, commander, 17th Coast Guard District. “We’re excited to have been able to put that agreement into our operations in Kotzebue. This exercise was really about us learning how to best respond to a mass rescue operation and how to work together both locally and internationally, so we can be prepared for what is likely to be an increase in activity in the Arctic region.”
The State of Alaska Department of Homeland Security — Emergency Management coordinated mass care and sheltering of incoming passengers with the community of Kotzebue.
The 17th Coast Guard District, Alaska National Guard, state of Alaska agencies, Alaska Native organizations and Canadian Forces participated in the live-field training exercise. Arctic Chinook featured several types of rescue helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to conduct rescue, patient movement and medical evacuation efforts.
Arctic Chinook represented a unified effort by the Coast Guard and its Alaskan Command partners to understand, anticipate and prepare for the challenges of a mass maritime rescue operation in the Arctic.
As 2016 winds down and winter dawns, the Coast Guard will continue its annual Arctic Shield operation in the Arctic adjusting the deployment of forces and resources based on the assessment of anticipated human activity. The Native American proverb, “He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone, ” is a passage conveyed to those who would voyage to the edge of the Arctic Circle. No matter how many decide to make the great circle route into the unknown, the Coast Guard and its circle of partner nations are training in case a ship meets with trouble in the night.