Fostering relationships through emergency response

Coast Guard personnel, working with Metlakatla officials and oil spill response experts deploy oil containment boom into the Metlakatla, Alaska, harbor during a response exercise April 25, 2013.  Local community members, including the fire chief, harbor master, local fish and wildlife personnel and members from the local power and light utility company, worked in coordination with Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization (SEAPRO) and the Coast Guard members to deploy, maneuver and stage response equipment including containment boom. Photo by George Mahoney.

Coast Guard personnel, working with Metlakatla officials and oil spill response experts deploy oil containment boom into the Metlakatla, Alaska, harbor during a response exercise April 25, 2013. Local community members, including the fire chief, harbor master, local fish and wildlife personnel and members from the local power and light utility company, worked in coordination with Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization (SEAPRO) and the Coast Guard members to deploy, maneuver and stage response equipment including containment boom. Photo by George Mahoney.

Alaska!  It is a land of wonder and grandeur, a land steeped in beautiful vistas and peppered with native communities each is as distinct as they are unique from each other.

Knowing these communities, their people and their unique cultures is imperative for Coast Guard responders who will need to work in partnership with members of these communities in the time of an emergency response.

Recently Coast Guard members conducted an exercise with one of these tribal communities.  Personnel from the 17th District Response Advisory Team and Marine Safety Detachment Ketchikan coordinated an oil spill response exercise with the Metlakatla Indian Community, which is Alaska’s only federal Indian reservation, and is located on Annette Island in Southeast Alaska, April 25, 2013.  One of the reasons for the planned exercise was to teach residents about response equipment stored in the community and how to use it.

“Many Metlakatla responders were unaware of the contents of the container,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremias Leos, a marine science technician at Marine Safety Detachment Ketchikan.  “After this exercise, they are now well-equipped to handle the response of an oil discharge into the water.”

The exercise response grew out of a required biennial inspection of response gear kept in Metlakatla.  The local fire chief expressed a desire to get to know the equipment and practice with its deployment and use.  Local community members, including the fire chief, harbor master, local fish and wildlife personnel and members from the local power and light utility company, worked in coordination with Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization (SEAPRO) and the Coast Guard members to deploy, maneuver and stage response equipment including containment boom.

“The weather was kind of nasty, it put people into the frame of mind like it was an actual response,” said Dustin Winter, commercial fisheries manager, Metlakatla Fish and Wildlife.  “The weather put kinks into the plan that we had to overcome, we had to use the weather, work with it.  It was a great training experience.”

The weather was rough, which made the boom deployment exercise realistic, and taught everyone involved how to overcome unforeseen obstacles and learn about potential pitfalls that might hinder an actual response. Safety was brought foremost to mind as the responders worked through the deployment.

“There was a guy there who kept talking about safety,” said Winter.  “He said ‘stay safe, it is only oil in the water,’ he really helped us maintain the right focus.  I am glad we did it (the training) it was a good class and something we want to stay involved with.”

“The boom deployment exercise was a total success, as we were able to meet face-to-face with Metlakatla’s responder community,” said Leos.  “The boom deployment exercise is one of many early steps in fostering a growing relationship with the Metlakatla community members, who have expressed an eagerness to be ‘response-ready’ in the case of an emergency.”

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