“Mariners in the vicinity of Great Point Nantucket Sound, be on
the lookout for three persons in the water…”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Anderson sat in the center of his
desk and manned a 4-monitor computer station, concern for the three
distressed people in the water off Nantucket showed on his face. He
bent over the radio microphone making sure his voice came through
loud and clear.
After a long silence, a voice answered.
The operations specialists on duty listen intently to a radio
call in Coast Guard Sector Southeartern's command center on August 12,
2016. The initial call that came in is the beginning of a search and
rescue case involving three people off Great Point in Massachusetts.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll)
Anderson breathed a sigh of relief.
The crew of
nearby vessel, Lisa B, saw the three people in the water off
Great Point and was preparing to save them.
operations specialists are always heard but rarely seen by
the maritime community they serve, and they save countless
lives behind the scenes.
Anderson is an OS in the
command center at Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New
England in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
center is run by four people on a 12-hour duty shift: the
communications unit watchstander, the situational unit
watchstander, the operations unit controller, and the
command duty officer.
Manning the radio is the
responsibility of the communications unit watchstander. This
is where almost all search and rescue responses begin.
The person behind the radio has the skill to decipher
distress calls from the rest of the airwaves that comes
though on VHF-FM channels 16, 21, 22, and other Coast Guard
The watchstander must ascertain
four pieces of information that are imperative to the
beginning of every search and rescue case: the nature of the
distress, how many people aboard, a description of the boat,
and the vessel's position.
“It can be difficult
because we pick up radio chatter from other areas, and those
calls are fielded through other Coast Guard units,” said
Another key person in a SAR case is the
operations unit controller, who takes all the information
from the communication watchstander and plans a
comprehensive search plan.
“As the operations unit
controller, I have to know all the areas each station is
responsible for, their assets and capabilities and determine
what unit will respond to each emergency safely,” said Petty
Officer 2nd Class Michelle Crocker, an operations unit
controller in the command center.
Another vital role,
the command duty officer, is in charge of the watch.
The CDO signs off on all operations unit controller's
actions. During confirmed missing-person cases - where
location information is scarce- the CDO can request
permission to ping cell phones, look at bank records or
anything else of significance, to gain information about
last known locations. This allows for a more accurate search
and increases the chance of bringing missing mariners home
to their loved ones.
The Coast Guard has an array of
methods and assets at their disposal to assist mariners in
need. And it isn't just Coast Guard vessels that they
coordinate to effect rescues.
For example, during the
case in Nantucket Sound, the Coast Guard watchstanding crew
worked with a local fishing crew to rescue three people in
the water. The nearby Lisa B arrived on scene and pulled an
8-year-old boy, his 35-year-old mother and a 40-year-old man
from the water. They were brought to shore and met by the
Nantucket Harbormaster and local Emergency Medical Services.
The trio declined medical assistance.
dramatic days like this are routine for Coast Guard OS's who
strive to keep mariners safe from behind the scenes.
When the shift was over, OS3 Anderson and OS2 Crocker
turned the watch over to the next crew of oncoming
watchstanders, to man the microphones and keep an ear in the
By U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole J. Groll
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