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Emergency Tow System exercise helps reponders prepare to aid ships out of danger
Published: 07/22/2011 15:05:00
When a boat gets in trouble, sometimes the best solution is a simple tow. Of course when you are talking about larger ships, getting a tow isn't always so simple. The State of Alaska and various other entities prepare for this by having "Emergency Tow Systems" ready to go around the state.

Scot Tiernan is the State on Scene Coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Spill Prevention and Response unit. He told us about the system: "The system is comprised of a 10 inch in circumference tow line, and there's a messenger line, there's a bag that's being used - tested today - for deploying it by air. The system is still under development; there's soon to be 6 systems in the state, there's 5 right now, and they're still developing the best protocol for deployment of the system."

A brand new system to be staged in Sitka was being tested this week in Juneau. On Thursday, the State and the US Coast Guard arranged an exercise using a commercial helicopter for the first time and a commercial tug-boat to practice deploying the system to tow a cruise ship.

Sara Francis of the U.S. Coast Guard stresses the importance of the ability to work with what you have in an emergency. "We want to gain familiarization with as many different assets as possible; there may not always be a Coast Guard helicopter available. The industry is quite vast throughout the state of Alaska, I think 1 in 4 people in Alaska is a pilot of some type. So having flexibility with our vessels of opportunity; be they Coast Guard, industry. Having flexibility with the helicopters; be they industry or Coast Guard, just gives us more options" said Francis.

In addition to being good training for deploying the system and working together, the exercises also serve as a testing ground to improve the system for real world use, even by those who haven't had a chance to practice.

John Brown, also with the Alaska D.E.C, said that exercises like Thursday's are used to improve the system: "What we've done, we've built a manual that basically outlines all the procedures, even to coordination with the helicopters and everything. And we deal with such a wide range of vessels and languages and everything like that, and one of the recommendations from the cruise line in fact was to put all the numbers in metric. We'd never thought of that. It's real simple things, but things that can make it simpler for the people that are actually experiencing the emergency; anything we can do to help them out and make it safer is the whole point of this operation."

Southeast Alaska's Emergency Tow System will be staged at the U.S. Coast Guard's Air Station Sitka from where it can be deployed by helicopter to anywhere in Southeast.

By: Mikko Wilson -