Coast Guard Research and Development Center evaluates state-of-the-art communications equipment and Next Generation Incident Command System in Alaska
At nearly 663,000 square miles, Alaska is the biggest state in the United States and over twice the size of Texas. The state’s size and the remoteness of its northern communities make emergency response challenging. In response to growing economic and tourism interests in the Arctic, Coast Guard District 17, Alaska Command and the State of Alaska and other state and federal partners will conduct a mass rescue exercise called Operation Arctic Chinook in Tin City and Kotzebue August 23-24. The New London, Conn.-based Coast Guard Research and Development Center is using the exercise to evaluate state-of-the-art line of sight and beyond line of sight communications equipment as well as the Next Generation Incident Command System.
Coast Guard R&D Center researchers will conduct research in locations throughout Alaska including Nome, Port Clarence, Tin City, Grand Singatook, Juneau and Anchorage. The LOS and BLOS equipment being tested during the exercise includes Mobile Ad Hoc Network radios and digital troposcatter technology which could allow first responders to establish voice and internet connections between the Regional Command Centers in Juneau and Anchorage in the event of a mass rescue event. NICS is a web-based system developed by the Department of Homeland Security in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and the Coast Guard R&D Center. In addition to streamlining the paper-intensive Incident Command System process, NICS allows first responders to chat directly with decision-makers at the Incident Command Center, share photos and track personnel and assets using GPS, making response coordination quicker and easier.
During Operation Arctic Chinook, first responders will participate in the simulated mass rescue of 250 passengers from an adventure cruise ship which has become disabled near the Arctic Circle. Coast Guard cutters Alex Haley, Spar and Stratton will participate in the maritime portion of the exercise and will simulate transferring survivors from the disabled cruise ship to a temporary shelter established in Tin City, Alaska. The next segment of the rescue exercise will involve the transfer of role-players from Tin City to higher care facilities in Kotzebue to treat simulated injuries. First responders will be represented at all levels of government (international, federal, state and local) and will include the Coast Guard, Air Force, Alaskan National Guard, State of Alaska Emergency Response and Royal Canadian Air Force.
Since its initial development in 2010, the NICS program has been used in a number of national emergencies. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has used NICS as an information sharing and domain awareness tool for a number of large forest fires including the 2013 wildfire in Yosemite National Park that burned more than 235,000 acres. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate made the program available worldwide, downloadable through several open-source outlets.