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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 12, 2022

Lessons from the Typhoon Merbok response in Alaska

By Zach Shapiro, MyCG Writer 

A violent storm was brewing in Western Alaska in early September. Then, on the 12th Sector Anchorage received word from the National Weather Service (NWS) that the remnants of Typhoon Merbok were posed to strike in the next week. Luckily, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage was prepared to hit the ground running. 
Before the storm hit, the Sector Anchorage team set up key communications channels via DoD365, adding state officials and federal partners at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to unify their response.  
The response was extremely smooth, said Chief Petty Officer Samantha Fisher, because “we had the preparedness down.” The Coast Guard leveraged its abilities to work well with federal agencies, playing off each agency’s unique strengths as they handled the worst storm in the Alaska region in more than 50 years.  
Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Richards, chief of emergency management and force readiness at Sector Anchorage, pointed to three secrets to success. “It’s all about partnerships. We couldn’t do what we were doing without our partnerships in the region.” It’s equally important to start communicating early, he added. “You have to get key players on the same page before the storm hits and clarify roles and responsibilities.”  
Finally, leveraging technology made all the difference in Alaska. Richards explained how the team used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in preplanned exercises to map shorelines. These UAVs took thousands of high-resolution photos, which were synthesized together using geographic information systems (GIS) software. GIS maps gave responders a clear image of the shoreline and community layouts after the storm so they could “identify pollution threats, infrastructure damage, and evaluate access and transportation impacts,” Richards said.
This response was the first field testing of Sector Anchorage’s brand new Incident Management Team (IMT) equipment. This system provided improved audiovisual displays and enabled the Sector to establish a highly functional incident command post. This system was purchased using approximately $394,000 of funding from the Corrective Action Program (CAP), previously known as the Remedial Action Management Program (RAMP). It was critical to the response effort, Richards emphasized.  

He also strongly encourages the field to consider applying for CAP funding when they notice an issue. “It starts with identifying a problem and creating a record of it,” he said. Responders should be persistent and keep making the case in CAP requests for new technology, he added. After the request was granted, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) sent Anchorage funding for a connectivity system that was the foundation of the response, according to Richards. This technology allowed multiple agencies’ command centers to track multiple live image feeds and communicate seamlessly with one another. 
Richards and Fisher are proud to support the people of Alaska. “You really become a part of the community while you’re responding in the community,” Richards noted.  
The CAP funding request process starts with holding exercises, then completing an after-action report and identifying shortfalls for corrective action. OEM tracks corrective actions to ensure they are resolved. If these actions require funding to complete them, OEM allows units to submit a CAP funding request. OEM then routes requests through the unit’s district and area offices for input. After reviewing these comments, OEM issues a final decision. “This is a great opportunity to help units that may not have the means to get funding,” said Ronald Pigeon of OEM. 
For more information on OEM and CAP funding, please click here.