Coast Guard Prepping for ‘Worst Case’ Water Rescues

By Meredith Roaten

Coast Guard photo

The Department of Homeland Security is looking for innovative technology to support personnel during large-scale water rescue operations.

The Coast Guard, which is part of DHS, will start accepting proposals in June for novel approaches to reduce deaths in mass water emergencies such as a capsized migrant boat, said Tom Gorgol, a program manager at the service’s office of search and rescue.

The Coast Guard purchased 113 life rafts around 15 years ago, and the 94 remaining rafts are nearing the end of their lifecycle, he said. The existing rafts only hold a maximum of 25 people, which is not enough for large-scale rescues such as a capsized cruise ship.

“Our worst-case scenario that keeps me up at night sometimes is, what if that ship happens to go down 500 miles offshore where resources are limited?” he said at a DHS virtual event for industry in May.

He noted that limited funds also prevented the Coast Guard from adding needed capabilities to their existing craft over the years. Lawmakers and Coast Guard leaders alike have called for more funding this year to support this mission, he said.

The service does not want to limit proposals to “rafts” because it hopes vendors will think outside the box in their solutions to keep survivors afloat during a disaster, Gorgol added.

Monica Cisternelli, project manager at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, said the equipment should weigh less than 100 pounds and have a footprint of less than 7 cubic feet. The capability will be single-use and should be deployable from most Coast Guard platforms, including the smallest aircraft in the inventory, the MH-65 Dolphin and MH-60 Seahawk.

While the current fleet of life rafts meets international safety standards, their weight and size prevent maximum efficiency, Cisternelli said. To address this issue, the innovative technology that the Coast Guard is looking for will not have to meet the same standards.

The technology’s design to keep survivors above water is crucial to keeping them alive and protected from dangers such as hypothermia, she added.

“This requirement allows people to get out of the water and stay safe and together versus drifting apart, which can make it more difficult for rescue units to find them,” she said.

Topics: Maritime Security

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