August 18, 2016 - The Coast Guard Research and Development Center will participate in a search and rescue field exercise called Arctic Chinook Aug. 22-24 to test the Next Generation Incident Command System and four radio and internet communications systems for Arctic rescue operations.
The exercise will address the growing need for Arctic search and rescue capabilities prompted by commercial expansion into the region. “Arctic Chinook gave us a great operational platform to get data during an actual exercise, rather than in a controlled environment,” said Joseph DiRenzo, a project manager in the RDC’s surface branch.
NICS is a web-based system developed by the Department of Homeland Security in collaboration with the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that guides users through the standard incident response procedures and helps to organize search and rescue operations. The system accelerates the procedural process and allows response commanders to chat with teams, send photographs and track assets using GPS.
NICS has been used to organize responses to wildfires, floods, search and rescue cases, and even the Boston Marathon bombing and is available to first responders at no cost. It is available in two formats, a desktop computer version and NICS mobile, which can be downloaded to any smartphone. Arctic Chinook will use both formats.
The RDC is also using Arctic Chinook to test new communications systems in Arctic environments. “The vast distances, lack of communications infrastructure, harsh weather conditions and high latitude ionic disturbances combine to make communications in the Arctic difficult,” said Holly Wendelin, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance domain lead for the Coast Guard Office of Research, Development, Test and Evaluation. DiRenzo explained: “There is infrastructure up there, but it’s developing, and you have to be able to cover large distances with reliability and accuracy.”
The Coast Guard will test an inflatable Ku band satellite dish to provide a satellite internet connection for NICS. Point-to-point line of sight transmitters will beam the signal from the satellite dish to the various command stations, and broadband data links will provide a wireless network for first responders. The Coast Guard will also set up a network of mobile transmitters to provide smartphone coverage to critical areas. The RDC’s goal is “to investigate all viable options that will enhance communications in the Arctic area of responsibility,” said Wendelin.
During Arctic Chinook, Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley will simulate a catastrophic event on a cruise ship forcing 250 crew and passengers to abandon ship. The mock accident will occur in a secluded part of Alaska requiring the cooperation of the Coast Guard, the Alaska National Guard and the Royal Canadian Air Force to rescue the stranded people and return them to safety. The incident will require responders to evaluate and prioritize evacuation in a situation involving mildly to severely wounded passengers and crew.