Coast Guard command center triages calls during Southeastern Louisiana floods

Swift storms moved into the areas surrounding Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Friday, and it was difficult to fully predict the level of impact the forecasted rain would bring.

Although there was an awareness of potential flooding, the high level of calls to the Coast Guard for relief response was unexpected, especially with heavy rain so far inland.

“Early into Saturday it became apparent that this was going to be a major event,” said Lt. Cmdr. Emile Cochet, the deputy operations section chief at the Coast Guard Sector New Orleans command center. “As the storm system lingered and saturated the area, the call volume rose, and the command center quickly and unexpectedly became a de facto 911 call center.”

Lt. j.g. Katerina Anderson, command duty officer at the command center, was on duty when the first of the calls came in. Anderson said fielding calls for help is standard operating procedure for a Coast Guard command center, however, hundreds of calls kept coming in and inundating personnel.

Coast Guard Sector New Orleans command center personnel work to respond to calls from the Baton Rouge flooding in New Orleans, August 17, 2016. The Coast Guard actively coordinated search and rescue cases for people in distress.

Coast Guard Sector New Orleans command center personnel work to respond to calls from the Baton Rouge flooding in New Orleans, August 17, 2016. The Coast Guard actively coordinated search and rescue cases for people in distress.
U.S Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone

“It was very tiring and we were all exhausted, but knowing there were people out there more exhausted than us helped us rally throughout the response,” said Anderson. “The response went much longer than expected, and people who weren’t even supposed to be at work those days just put on their uniforms and came in to help. The command center communication and teamwork was tested and proved resilient.”

Anderson said the flood surpassed record levels, and required all-hands and specialties to intake the distress calls to triage and expedite the appropriate aid to the right location.

“Sector NOLA personnel closely coordinated efforts with representatives from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans, who also took part in the incident command post,” said Cochet. “These individuals, while not flying, were critical in providing us with aviation resources needed to conduct rescue operations, and are also some of the unsung heroes of this operation.”

Cochet said the Sector New Orleans command center used both traditional and contemporary strategies, including social media, to locate and render help to those in need. The command center also provided a liaison officer who physically embedded with the Louisiana Emergency Operations Center, to ensure there was not a duplication of effort in the coordinated responses.

“We were able to leverage social media to monitor where people were reporting to be stranded or in trouble.  Monitoring social media, in conjunction with our integration into the State of Louisiana EOC, enabled us to quickly identify areas where people needed help, and it certainly made response efforts much more efficient,” said Cochet.

Cochet said the Coast Guard played a significant supporting role to massive relief efforts orchestrated by the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and that it was a joint effort all around.

“I’m very proud of how well CG response personnel were able to quickly come together and facilitate an inter-agency effort to help the people of South Louisiana.  Although not physically doing the rescuing, personnel at the incident command post were able to staff key positions that fed critical and timely information to Coast Guard personnel on scene, and members of GOHSEP,” said Cochet. “Our ability to work together as a team to respond during these types of incidents will always be buoyed by the vast efforts from the support personnel behind the scenes.”