Coast Guard’s Rescue 21 increases coastline security
Recently, a boat master with 200 Haitian refugees aboard guided his craft to the shores off Key Biscayne, Fla., and allowed illegal immigrants to wade ashore, raising questions about the vulnerability of U.S. shores in this era of terrorist threats.
Because of the Coast Guard’s small size – 35,000 active duty personnel and 1,634 Coast Guard vessels – compared to the length of coastline, every inch cannot be watched every minute.
But a $611 million contract awarded to General Dynamics Decision Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics, of Scottsdale, Ariz., to modernize the Coast Guard’s National Distress & Response System will extend coverage. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said the system, nicknamed “Rescue 21,” is the maritime equivalent of a 911 system.
The General Dynamics system will upgrade ground-based installations at about 270 Coast Guard facilities, more than 300 radio towers and install new communications equipment on 657 Guard vessels. When Search and Rescue operations are initiated, the Rescue 21 system will reduce response time while maximizing communications.
It will enhance VHF-FM coverage, add position localization on a VHF-FM transmission, increase the number of voice channels allowing multiple operations, protect sensitive communications, allow asset tracking and digital voice recording with immediate enhanced playback.
Rescue 21 will reduce a gap in coastal coverage from 14 percent to less than 2 percent. A mariner in distress will make the equivalent of a 911 call and the Coast Guard will be able to quickly pinpoint the location of the caller and identify the closest rescue vessels.
The system will be deployed and field-tested in the northeastern regions — Atlantic City, N.J., and the eastern shore of Maryland during 2003. The next deployment will in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area and Mobile, Ala., and adjacent regions. Seattle and Port Angeles, Wash., will follow and the balance of the entire United States will be installed and operational by Sept. 30, 2006.