Coast Guard Collects Lessons Learned from 2017 Hurricanes

Google Docs and cellphones were key tools during the USCG search and rescue effort following Hurricane Harvey (USCG photo)

By U.S. Coast Guard News 2017-10-10 21:02:05

[By Loretta Haring]

“Everyone. Needs. A. Phone. Everyone.”

“We found an asset tracking/reporting system called Geosuite; we’ve already got it up and running.”

“Houston-Galveston T-1 line went down and we jumped to Google Docs.”

The Coast Guard swung into full response mode as Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Texas Aug. 25, 2017. And as responders encountered problems and devised solutions, some relayed the information via text message to Cmdr. Thomas “Andy” Howell, who heads the Coast Guard Innovation Program.

“The texts were essentially submissions to the Innovation Program by people who had lost access to the Coast Guard Network,” Howell said. “The next morning I spoke with the co-chairs of the Innovation Council about opening up an official outlet for folks to post their ideas.”

The Hurricane Lessons Learned challenge on the Coast Guard’s crowdsourcing platform, CG_Ideas@Work, was started as a way to preserve and institutionalize the wealth of lessons learned during hurricane response efforts. “We saw some remarkable initiative and problem-solving during recent hurricane response and recovery operations, from expanded use of social media to cloud-based asset reporting,” said Rear Adm. Joseph Vojvodich, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support and an Innovation Council co-chairman. “We want to rapidly capture and share those lessons and get the new ideas in front of decision makers while they are still fresh,” he said.

The Coast Guard routinely captures lessons learned as a way to improve its operations, but the CG_Ideas@Work challenge offers one distinct advantage: “Our crowdsourcing platform not only provides a place to submit ideas, but also to collaborate on them,” Howell said. “Everyone from non-rates to admirals can discuss ideas.” Speed is also an advantage. “Catching the ideas when they’re fresh and raw preserves their integrity,” Howell said.

The challenge was initiated to capture lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey, but as the U.S. and its territories continued to be battered by subsequent storms, it was expanded to include responses to Irma, Jose and Maria. The current plan is to keep the challenge open indefinitely. “Ideas are still flowing in,” Howell said.

A report based on the challenge will summarize key themes, and all ideas will be given to the Office of Contingency Preparedness and Exercise Policy (CG-CPE) as material for the official Incident Command System (ICS) lessons learned process. “It’s vital that we not lapse back to the status quo after the dust settles,” Howell said.

Input on the CG_Ideas@Work site can have a major impact on Coast Guard operations. “Other than the hurricane lessons learned effort, maybe our most important campaign so far was one where we sought feedback from all 47-foot motor lifeboat surfmen, officers in charge, instructors and engineers for improving the vessel just as it was entering its service life extension planning process,” Howell said. “The ideas we gathered will make the boat more effective and safer for the crew. Most importantly, end users had direct input on a major acquisition.”

The platform is also open for private challenges, limited to a particular unit, community or sector, for example. “If you’ve got a research question that could benefit from the wisdom of the Coast Guard workforce, just contact Innovation@uscg.mil,” Howell said.

Loretta Haring works with the Coast Guard’s Office of Strategic Planning and Communication, Acquisition Directorate.

This article appears courtesy of Coast Guard Compass and may be found in its original form here

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.