A “soft” resilience strategy is part of successful hurricane response   Leave a comment

We hear about the infrastructure investments that often follow major disasters like hurricanes ‒ the “hard” port resilience strategies necessary in the wake of catastrophic human, environmental, and economic loss. But the sturdiest, most flood-proof building is just one part of a larger system of assets in coastal resilience. We don’t hear much about the “soft” resilience strategies ‒ those that build and maintain ties among the people responsible for responding to a hurricane, for instance ‒ that are important to a successful response. Those strategies are part of the social capital between communities and government, and among government agencies.

Coast Survey's Capt. Jon Swallow and Rear Adm. Gerd Glang review charting and survey requirements with Capt. Andrew Melick of of the Biscayne Bay Pilots Association.

Coast Survey’s Capt. Jon Swallow and Rear Adm. Gerd Glang meet with Capt. Andrew Melick of of the Biscayne Bay Pilots Association.

 

Coast Survey navigation managers invest in important soft resilience strategies during their ongoing preparations for hurricane season, building relationships with the private and public partners with whom they will work in a crisis. To quote a spokesperson for the New York Office of Emergency Management, “You don’t want to meet someone for the first time when you’re standing around in the rubble.” Or surveying a dangerous coastal debris field, as the case may be.

Navigation manager Tim Osborn presents info to U.S. Coast Guard New Orleans Sector and members of the Lower Mississippi River Waterway Safety Advisory Committee.  Tim works with these groups during hurricane and incident response events.

Navigation manager Tim Osborn presents info to U.S. Coast Guard New Orleans Sector and members of the Lower Mississippi River Waterway Safety Advisory Committee. Tim works with these groups during hurricane and incident response events.

 

Coast Survey navigation managers and navigation response teams have the opportunity to build those relationships when they meet with emergency responders from NOAA and other agencies throughout the year for planning, drills, and tabletop exercises. Navigation managers also sit on U.S. Coast Guard Marine Transportation System Recovery Units, which comprise the experts in maritime mobility, incident response, and port operations who work with stakeholders to reopen ports following a natural or manmade disruption. The units provide a single contact and a clear, efficient pipeline for relaying information to and from Coast Guard and NOAA headquarters to ensure that resources are available at the right place at the right time.

NY/NJ MTSRU 2012

Lt. Brent Pounds (back to the camera) was NOAA’s representative on the New York / New Jersey Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit responding to Sandy in 2012.

 

The “right time” is well before a storm hits its coastal target. After a damaging storm, ports may restrict ship travel or shut down completely ‒ so deploying survey ships, navigation response teams, and navigation managers before the storm arrives is critical. For example, four days out, as it becomes more obvious where a storm will hit, the Marine Transportation System Recovery Units assess the likely severity of damage in the forecasted areas. Two to three days out, Coast Survey teams are on the move to pre-position before the storm’s arrival. Because they have been pre-positioned, navigation managers can work directly with the Coast Guard, pilots, and port officials to create a survey plan for detecting underwater debris in order to rapidly “clear” priority areas for the resumption of shipping.

Tensions are high after a hurricane, and resources may be scarce. When people from several agencies are trying their best to get operations up and running, under difficult circumstances, pre-established individual relationships can help to ease the strain and strengthen team bonds. Of course, nothing beats team building like a successful response to an actual storm. (See this excellent report on port recovery in the aftermath to Sandy in 2012.) The lessons learned in one response can be transferable to future responses. As an added benefit, the respect and trust among cooperating agencies, at all levels of government, gives life to the motto of the United States. E pluribus unum: out of many, one.

NOAA helps Port Fourchon determine safe anchorage areas   Leave a comment

Port officials around the country know they can rely on the expert advice of Coast Survey’s navigation managers, cartographic experts, and hydrographers as the ports plan the essential improvements necessary for a thriving maritime economy. One example of Coast Survey assistance is in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, where port officials have determined that the volume and density of vessels have reached a level that requires one or more offshore anchorage areas. Sending vessels to a designated anchorage reduces the population in port and provides a safe area for vessels to power down their engines (rather than hold in place offshore in dynamic positioning mode), which would improve both safety and efficiency in the area known as the “Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

Using nautical charts of the areas, Coast Survey provided a range of possible sites that helped port officials narrow their anchorage options. After navigation manager Tim Osborn worked with the officials, and with additional requirements in hand, Coast Survey cartographic expert Steve Soherr provided a digital graphic showing likely areas, with information that guards against pipeline and platform interference with safe anchorage.

As additional safeguards, hydrographic surveys will likely be needed to confirm that the seafloor of the recommended areas are free of hazards and do not have uncharted pipelines. Coast Survey will work with the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement as needed.

The port will bring its recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, who has the authority to designate the anchorages.

Port Fourchon potential anchorage areas

Cartographic adviser Steve Soherr, with Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Division, produced this graphic showing the lease blocks, pipelines, and platforms offshore of Fourchon and Belle Pass. Port officials and others will use the image to examine areas offshore that are both free of pipeline hazards and within the depth range required to accommodate offshore service vessels and the other fleets seen at Fourchon.

Posted September 29, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Commerce

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Lt. Smith shows us the beauty of Gambell Alaska   2 comments

Gambell panorama

Photo by Lt. Timothy Smith

This summer, the Bering Sea Alliance hosted a private-public summit in Gambell, Alaska, to discuss Arctic resource development and infrastructure. (See page 10 in this edition of the Nome Nugget for a good summary of the meeting.) Lt. Tim Smith, NOAA Coast Survey’s regional manager for Alaska, updated the participants on the status of Arctic nautical charts and described NOAA’s Arctic Nautical Charting Plan. He also outlined the preliminary 2015 survey plans to acquire hydrographic data around Point Hope, Point Barrow, Port Clarence, and Kotzebue Sound, as NOAA strives to ensure the navigational safety of the increasing ship traffic through Arctic waters.

In addition to his role as navigation manager and NOAA Corps officer, Lt. Smith is one of NOAA’s best photographers. His photos of the area around Gambell are better than words in conveying the beauty of this remote area of Alaska.

Gambell AK 2 - Tim Smith - wEmblem

Photo by Lt. Timothy Smith

With the photo below, Tim reminds us that black and white photos can sometimes reveal more than full color.

Gambell AK - Tim Smith wEmblem

Photo by Lt. Timothy Smith

Posted September 25, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Scenery

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NOAA awards contract to build new navigation response boats   Leave a comment

NOAA today announced that Lake Assault Boats of Superior, Wisconsin, will build two small vessels for the Office of Coast Survey’s navigation response program, part of a plan to eventually replace all six of the program’s small survey boats. The combined cost of both 28-foot vessels is $538,200.

“All of the navigation response team survey boats are nearing or have exceeded their designed service life,” said Russ Proctor, division chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Division. “A phased program to replace the navigation response team boats over the next three to five years will help NOAA maintain the program’s crucial capacity for inshore surveys and rapid response in emergencies.”

The navigation response team (NRT) boats, which accommodate three-person crews, carry high-tech multibeam echo sounders and side scan sonar to conduct hydrographic surveys in critical navigation areas. The surveys collect data to update nautical charts, and search for underwater debris or shoaling that could pose a danger to navigation — especially after hurricanes or other national emergencies.

“The modernization of the NRT fleet will continue to ensure reliable and rapid deployments to ports that need chart updates and assistance with recovery after severe weather events, even as it helps NOAA hold down costs,” Proctor said.

Coast Survey is phasing the retirement of its current fleet of NRT vessels, prioritizing the replacement of boats experiencing the highest escalating maintenance costs. Coast Survey expects delivery of the first two boats in April 2015.

The six navigation response teams are placed strategically around the country, and each boat can be transported over land. In the past three years, underwater searches by NRTs have helped to speed the resumption of maritime commerce following Hurricane Isaac (in Port Fourchon, Louisiana); Sandy (in the Port of New York / New Jersey, and in Delaware Bay); and the 2011 tsunami (Crescent City and Santa Cruz, California). An NRT also assisted the National Park Service in re-establishing safe navigation and docking at the Statue of Liberty after Sandy, and surveyed the Potomac River security zone in preparation for the 2013 Presidential Inaugural.

Nautical chart data acquired by the navigation response teams supplement hydrographic surveys conducted by NOAA ships Rainier, Fairweather, Thomas Jefferson, Ferdinand R. Hassler, and research vessel Bay Hydro II, as well as private survey companies under contract to NOAA.

Escorted by harbor police after Hurricane Isaac, the Coast Survey navigation response team had to skirt downed utility poles and hanging wires on closed Hwy 1, as they made their way from Lafayette to Port Fourchon.

Escorted by harbor police after Hurricane Isaac, the Coast Survey navigation response team had to skirt downed utility poles and hanging wires on closed Hwy 1, as they made their way from Lafayette to Port Fourchon.

NRT2 surveys Marcus Hook Anchorage

A navigation response team had to clear away debris on the ramp so they could survey Marcus Hook Anchorage on the Delaware River in Sandy’s aftermath.

Posted September 22, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Nautical charts

NOAA R/V Bay Hydro II has a ball meeting the public in Baltimore!   Leave a comment

Last week we blogged about Coast Survey’s research vessel Bay Hydro II, a small hydro research vessel that delivers big results. The vessel was heading into Baltimore Harbor for five days of public tours at Star Spangled Spectacular.

The Bay Hydro II crew and headquarters personnel had a great time with everyone — from the kids who learned about charts from an admiral, to the map geeks who enjoyed a discussion down in the hydro weeds. More than 4,000 people toured the Bay Hydro II during the celebration, and we hope they all learned at least a little about hydrographic surveying and nautical charts.

Rear Adm. Gerd Glang explains charts to kids

Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, introduced kids to nautical charts onboard R/V Bay Hydro II.

LTJG Bart Buesseler answers questions from the public

The Officer in Charge of R/V Bay Hydro II, Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler, must have answered a million questions about surveying, charting, and serving in the NOAA Officer Corps.

Rob Mowery

Rob Mowery, the physical scientist who manages Bay Hydro II‘s surveys, called on his years of NOAA experience to explain hydrography to an inquiring public.

Tours pause for Blue Angels

Okay everyone, take a break! The Blue Angels are coming…

Posted September 16, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in Bay Hydro II

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A small hydro research vessel delivers big results   1 comment

by Dawn Forsythe, Coast Survey communications

Remember when your mom told you, “The best things come in small packages”? It turns out that is true for more than diamonds, puppies, and kids who think they are too short.

Today it was my privilege to ride with the 57-foot Bay Hydro II, one of NOAA’s smallest research vessels, as she came into Baltimore Harbor for the Star Spangled Spectacular, a festival that celebrates the 200th anniversary of our National Anthem. As we sailed alongside the impressive NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, past historic Fort McHenry, a 19th century cannon boomed ‒ probably sounding much as it did 200 years ago during the War of 1812, when the British attack was turned back at Baltimore. With that historic reminder, I was struck by how the Bay Hydro II represents Coast Survey’s two-century commitment to the Chesapeake Bay, starting with our surveys in 1843.

The view from NOAA R/V Bay Hydro II, as the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer passes historic Fort McHenry

The view from R/V Bay Hydro II, as the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer passes historic Fort McHenry

(Historical note: Even though President Jefferson ordered the Survey of the Coast in 1807, the U.S. Coast Survey was not able to assist during the War of 1812. We were still organizing and, in fact, the first superintendent of Coast Survey was in England when war broke out. Ferdinand Hassler was trying to recruit surveying and cartographic experts and was searching for the proper equipment. He was not able to return to the U.S. until after the war. Some historians think Hassler may have been detained in England at what could euphemistically be called a “special invitation” of the British government.)

Bay Hydro II, the successor to the original productive Bay Hydrographer, was only commissioned five years ago. She was built for the Bay. As U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski wrote in 2009:

“The Port of Baltimore depends on accurate charts to ensure maritime traffic flows freely, and to help keep the Bay safe from environmental disasters that could result from vessels striking uncharted hazards… Investing in advanced technology, like the Bay Hydrographer II and the sonar equipment it uses, is especially important for keeping America competitive in a global arena. Much of the charting equipment and software currently used within NOAA’s hydrographic fleet was first tested and proven right here in the Bay using this vessel’s predecessor.

“I’m proud to have such an advanced test platform in Maryland’s backyard, keeping America safe, and keeping America innovative.”

The Bay Hydro II is meeting Senator Mikulski’s vision for safety and innovation.

BHII in Hampton Roads 2011

Bay Hydro II surveyed in Hampton Roads following Hurricane Irene, speeding the resumption of port operations

Bay Hydro II has an impressive record. She was the first vessel in Norfolk waters after Hurricane Irene and Sandy, searching for underwater debris to speed resumption of shipping and naval operations in Hampton Roads. In addition to leading Coast Survey evaluations of emerging hydrographic survey technologies, she has assisted U.S. Navy researchers who are testing new technologies. She has rescued stranded boaters and removed debris that posed a danger to navigation in the Bay. And by participating in local community events, the Bay Hydro crews have educated tens of thousands of people about the Bay’s marine characteristics and maritime importance.

Speaking of education… At Baltimore’s 2012 Sailabration, nearly 9,000 people toured this mighty little research vessel for an introduction to NOAA’s hydrographic surveys. With more than a million people expected for this year’s Star Spangled Spectacular, from Sep. 11 to Sep. 15, I’d be surprised if the three-person Bay Hydro crew has any voice left on Tuesday.

This weekend, a lot of people are going to discover how a small research vessel delivers big results.

O-I-C Buesseler

Lt.j.g. Bart Buesseler is the officer-in-charge of the R/V Bay Hydro II

Rob Mowery

Rob Mowery, physical scientist technician on the Bay Hydro II, explains survey preparations to a visiting media crew.

Whistler hints at artistic flair during Coast Survey stint   5 comments

By Darcy Herman

Over its 200-year history, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has employed men who are preeminent in their fields. Most of the time, their career successes follow traditional professional trajectories ‒ but at least one Coast Survey alum’s ultimate renown was born of his failure at Coast Survey.

James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903), the American artist best known for his painting colloquially known as “Whistler’s Mother,” was briefly and unhappily employed in the drawing division of the U.S. Coast Survey in 1854 and 1855.

Whistler came to Coast Survey at the age of 20, after he was asked to leave West Point over an argument with a professor of chemistry there. As Whistler tells it, “The Professor would not agree with me that silicon was a gas, but declared it was a metal; and as we could come to no agreement in the matter, it was suggested — all in the most courteous and correct West Point way ‒ that perhaps I had better leave the Academy.”

Enter Secretary of War and fellow West Point expellee Jefferson Davis, who, after interviewing Whistler and learning of his talent in drawing, recommended him to an open post at Coast Survey. There Whistler met John Ross Key, and the two became good friends as well as office mates. In a memoir, Key recalls that Whistler was a bad fit for the job. “The accuracy required in the making of maps and surveys, where mathematical calculations are the foundation of projections upon which are drawn the topographical or hydrographical conventional signs, was not to Whistler’s liking, and the laborious application involved was beyond his nature, or inconsistent with it,” Key wrote. Apparently, Whistler’s nature was also inconsistent with regular office hours. Making a leisurely arrival to Coast Survey, Whistler once claimed “I was not too late; the office opened too early.”

When he did produce drawings, Whistler was often distracted, making small sketches in the margins of charts or on scraps of paper. One of these idle sketches was of his friend Key seated at his sketch board. Frustrated with the effort, Whistler threw the sketch of Key on the floor, where Key retrieved and saved it.

sketch of John Ross Key

Whistler’s sketch of John Ross Key

Whistler’s work appears on two Coast Survey sketches. One, described by E.R. and J. Pennell, was found on a copperplate and saved by Whistler’s Coast Survey office mate, John Ross Key. It depicts a rocky shore, with sketches of several people, something Whistler was fond of drawing on many surfaces ‒ including the walls of the stairway leading down to the office of his boss, Coast Survey Superintendent Alexander Bache.

copperplate etching

Key saved Whistler’s copperplate etching

On the Sketch of Anacapa Island (1854), Whistler etched the view of the eastern extremity of the island and added birds flying overhead. When he was scolded for the addition, Whistler replied, “Surely the birds don’t detract from the sketch. Anacapa Island couldn’t look as blank as that map did before I added the birds.”

Sketch of Anacapa Island

Sketch of Anacapa Island

Although he was criticized for including nonessential decoration on official government charts, the results of his doodling and experiments on copper plates showed Whistler’s true mastery of etching technique — a technique he learned while employed at Coast Survey and later used to great success and reasonable profit as an iconic American artist.

(For more information on Whistler, see Stanley Weintraub’s Whistler: A Biography, published in 1974 by Weybright and Talley.)

Posted July 22, 2014 by NOAA Office of Coast Survey in History

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