Marine Safety Detachment Nashville prepares for another unpredictable flood season

Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Turner

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- A 25-foot Response Boat-Small from Marine Safety Detachment Nashville, is moored to a pier on the Cumberland River near downtown, Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. Members of Marine Safety Detachment Nashville were part of the Disaster Area Response Teams used during the response to massive flooding in Nashville in May 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer John Edwards.

The one-year anniversary of the Nashville, Tenn., flood has arrived and with it a fear that the devastation could happen again, however, members of Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Nashville have been busy preparing in order to assist the community in the event of another destructive flood season.

For 48 hours, beginning May 1, 2010, Middle Tennessee saw a record 13 inches of rainfall. According to local government statistics, the record rainfall caused flooding and damages estimated at $1.5 billion across 52 counties. Additionally, the deluge left hundreds of people stranded in their homes with no way to escape the rising waters. In response, Coast Guard Disaster Assistance Response Teams, in conjunction with other local and state agencies, rescued 263 Middle Tennessee residents. Since then, MSD Nashville has increased its capabilities and its members are ready for anything the flood season may bring.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘if’ another catastrophic flood will happen again, but when,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Anderson. “We want to make sure we are prepared for anything.”

Flood response operations are conducted by the DART, which is comprised of members with specialized training. The Nashville DART is made up of active duty, reserve and Coast Guard Auxiliary members. Training for members of the DART occurs every three months and covers essential skills such as maneuverability, first aid, properly trailering boats and search and rescue.

“Maneuverability is an extremely important part of DART training,” says Petty Officer 3rd Class John Mays, DART member and also a first responder during the 2010 flood. “I remember during the flood, at one point, the bottom of the boat scraped against something. I realized it was a submerged car and a telephone pole.”

Training is paramount to preparation and this year, as soon as conditions were favorable, the unit was underway getting members qualified to handle the shallow-water rescue boats.  At the start of flood season last year, MSD Nashville had five qualified DART members. This proved challenging for the unit, because two DART members need to be on a rescue boat in order to properly and safely operate it.

“It was difficult to have all three shallow-water rescue boats underway at the same time due to our lack of numbers,” said Anderson. The unit has since added three active duty, six auxiliarists and 15 reserve members to its list of qualified DART members, giving them a total of 28. The unit uses three 21-foot War Eagle shallow-water rescue boats to conduct its operations.

Lack of qualified personnel wasn’t the only challenge faced by the DART members last year that was being mitigated. A lack of effective communication between industry and agencies was an issue that needed to be addressed as well.

“The flood changed the way we do business,” said Lt. Sean Morrison. “It raised the question of how commercial traffic is affected during a massive flood. In order to improve the communication during emergency response efforts the Tennessee Cumberland Rivers Committee was created.

The TCIC is made up of members from the National Weather Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, Nashville industry leaders and the U.S. Coast Guard. The formation of the TCIC allows all agencies, industry and law enforcement to communicate and have input concerning commercial traffic during a massive flood.

Through improved communication, additional qualified team members and experience, members of MSD Nashville are well prepared to handle any potential flooding in the area.

“We are better equipped to handle another response like the one we saw last year,” said Anderson. “We’ve significantly raised our DART numbers and gained knowledge and experience to more effectively respond should the river basin flood again.”

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