NOAA survey teams wrap up response to Hurricane Isaac, return to normal duties to protect ships and people

As Gulf ports in the path of Hurricane Isaac bring operations back up to normal, Coast Survey’s navigation response team has finished its hydrographic surveys at Port Fourchon and is heading back to its regularly scheduled 2012 survey of the sea floor in the Port of Houston and Galveston Bay navigational areas.

Port Fourchon started allowing ships to enter the port yesterday, after NRT4 found only minor shoaling and no underwater debris that would pose a danger to navigation.

NOAA surveys ports to keep navigation safe and efficient. As Coast Survey’s navigation response team was wrapping up its surveys of Port Fourchon and Belle Pass on August 31, the pilot of the multi-purpose supply vessel HOS Achiever, inbound, asked if they found any dangers to navigation. The team found minor shoaling but no hazards.

Upon receiving Coast Survey’s initial survey report yesterday, Port Fourchon executive director Chett Chiasson thanked the navigation response team and managers for support in this recovery. “Your immediate availability following the hurricane, being some of the “first” people in, goes above and beyond the call of duty,” he wrote. (See full text of Chiasson’s letter to NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, below.)

The navigation response teams and managers responded quickly, and under difficult circumstances, but we need to emphasize that they responded safely. Ensuring safety for NOAA response personnel is as high a priority as establishing safe conditions for the maritime transportation system.

The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division used the NOAA King Air and the NOAA Twin Otter to gather imagery for the response to Isaac. The crews of NOAA remote sensing planes consist of two NOAA Corps pilots from the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, with NGS experts operating the sensors. (Images from the remote sensing survey are being posted to Hurricane ISAAC Response Imagery Viewer.)

Coast Survey’s navigation managers are returning to their stations in port areas across the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. They remain available, as always, to provide NOAA asset coordination and assistance to government officials, port representatives, pilots, and the maritime industry.

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Sent to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, August 31, 2012

Subject: Thank You to NOAA for the Service to the Nation and to the Gulf’s Energy Connection, Port Fourchon, Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac

Dr. Lubchenco:

I would like to recognize the huge effort of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to respond in such a timely and critical way to our needs at Port Fourchon to respond to Hurricane Isaac and to recover our Port Operations as quickly as possible.

Every day, almost 30% of America’s supply and consumption of energy comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Port Fourchon is the single most important supply Port in the Gulf.  The preparations for a hurricane and recovery of the Port is critical to this Nation in re-establishing the supply of domestic energy from the Gulf.  Delays and loss of operations by the Port can have dramatic impacts to energy supply of this country and create large economic impacts throughout the United States.

The eye of Hurricane Isaac came directly over the Port and we saw widespread flooding throughout the area and of our only access road to the Port, Louisiana Highway LA-1.

The day the hurricane started to move from the area, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey Navigational Response Team arrived in our offices, discussed the needs of our Port and headed to the Port that morning.

NOAA’s Coast Survey Navigation Response Team was the first responders to arrive and reach Port Fourchon. They and our Harbor Police made it through flooded highways and arrived to start work before anyone else. They worked through yesterday and today surveying the entire Port and it’s Pass, Belle Pass and are now in our Operations Center processing the work and have been constantly updating me and our Port staff throughout.

With a very large hurricane and coastal impacts we saw, you quickly find out who are the real responders and partners with the Port and the Gulf. For us, it is NOAA and the Office of Coast Survey.

Our commendations and thanks to you and to the Office of Coast Survey. Their service to us and the Nation is truly exemplary.

Respectfully,

Chett

Chett C. Chiasson, MPA

Executive Director

Greater Lafourche Port Commission

NOAA navigation response team has a harrowing start to a successful afternoon of surveying at Port Fourchon

Coast Survey navigation response teams know the meaning of “rapid” in Rapid Maritime Response, as their ongoing response following Hurricane Isaac demonstrates.

As we explained in yesterday’s post (NOAA looks for dangers to navigation at Port Fourchon), getting a navigation response team (NRT) into the water at the port, to search for underwater debris and shoaling ‒ ASAP ‒ was Coast Survey’s highest priority. It was also a priority for port authorities, who know more than anyone how important it is to resume maritime operations quickly at “The Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

The 3-person survey team (team lead Nick Forfinski, with Luke Pavilonis and David McIntire), with navigation managers Tim Osborn and Alan Bunn, first had to move the boat (complete with state-of-the-art multibeam sonar and side scan sonar equipment) 163 miles from Lafayette to Port Fourchon. The team was the first group to drive down closed Highway 1, only preceded by a harbor police officer who wanted to make sure roads weren’t washed out. To travel the last segment of the storm-savaged highway, which was covered in places by nearly two feet of sideways-moving water, averting downed utility poles with hanging wires, the small Coast Survey caravan received a police escort by Port Fourchon Harbor Police.

The Coast Survey caravan, taking NRT4 to Port Fourchon on Thursday morning, had to drive through sections of Hwy 1 that were covered with up to two feet of moving water.  The caravan was escorted by the Port Fourchon Harbor Police.
The  caravan had to skirt downed utility lines and hanging wires on closed Highway 1, north of Galliano, as they traveled from Lafayette to Port Fourchon on Thursday morning.

As anyone who has ever driven through bad conditions can imagine, the team arrived at Port Fourchon tensed and tired. But that didn’t stop them. After consulting with port authorities, NRT4 launched their 28′ Sea Ark, put the side scan sonar in the water, switched on the multibeam, calibrated equipment, and started searching for dangers to navigation in the deserted waters around the docks. They also did a quick reconnaissance of Belle Pass (see NOAA chart 11346), where conditions were such that they weren’t able to continue operations. (They are returning to Belle Pass today.)

NRT4 used the multibeam echo sounder and the side scan sonar (pictured here) as they searched for underwater hazards at Port Fourchon on Aug 30.

Port officials need the data ‒ quickly ‒ from the hydrographic surveys, so NRT4 survey technicians worked until the early morning hours, processing the depth measurements and images they acquired yesterday afternoon.

Today, NRT4 will intensify their search for underwater debris and shoaling, to make sure that ships and mariners can navigate safely ‒ without damage to lives, equipment, or the environment ‒ when ships start returning after the Coast Guard Captain of the Port lifts port restrictions.

Ready, set…

Coast Survey’s Rapid Maritime Response assets for Hurricane Isaac are now in place, and are ready to move in when the storm moves on.

The teams will search for underwater debris and other dangers to navigation in port areas, to speed the resumption of shipping in areas impacted by the storm. A rapid response — that gives Coast Guard officials vital information on the condition of ship channels — reduces economic losses in maritime trade, reduces potential disruptions in energy supplies when ports are serving energy providers and oil rigs, and keeps mariners safe. (For more, see Coast Survey Prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac.)

Navigation response team 4 (NRT4), a 3-person team who had been conducting surveys in Galveston, arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana, yesterday. They brought their 28’ foot Sea Ark and state-of-the-art survey equipment with them, and are already working with survey specialists at Coast Survey headquarters, laying out potential survey tracks based on initial indications of priorities from Coast Guard officials.

NRT2 trailered their boat from where they had been surveying on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and are now with NRT1 in Panama City (in Florida’s panhandle), ready to respond to requests for assistance from Captains of the Port in Alabama or Mississippi. They can also deploy to Louisiana, if needed.

The NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations / National Geodetic Survey remote sensing planes are “response ready” with pre-planned flight lines for aerial surveying of coastal areas hit with storm surge. The King Air is in Austin, Texas, and the Twin Otter is relocating to Mobile, Alabama.

NRT4 brought their boat and state-of-the-art survey equipment to Lafayette, Louisiana, yesterday.
NOAA navigation manager Michael Henderson (right) works with Billy Sasser, Dept. of Homeland Security’s maritime security liaison to the Florida emergency operations center. Henderson has spent the last four days working with state and federal officials as part of Florida’s State Emergency Response Team.
Chett Chaisson, of Port Fourchon, took this photo this morning at the Golden Meadow Flood Lock.

Coast Survey prepares Rapid Maritime Response for Tropical Storm Isaac

With the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac, headed toward the state of Florida, Coast Survey navigation managers and navigation response teams have moved into Rapid Maritime Response preparations. Coast Survey is often called upon to speed the resumption of ocean shipping — slowed or shut down by hurricane damage — by searching for submerged debris or other dangers to navigation in port areas or shipping lanes. After navigation response teams survey the areas, ports can resume operations safely and efficiently.

Our navigation managers work with port representatives, and state and federal officials in the area, to coordinate their requests for NOAA data and services, and our manager for Florida is already fielding requests from port officials and the U.S. Coast Guard in Florida.

Navigation response teams deploy with small boats trailerable by truck to any U.S. destination. In addition to regular assignments that make shipping safe in and around ports, they are prepared to respond to disasters.

Coast Survey deploys six navigation response teams, at all times, to conduct long-term hydrographic projects in critical maritime areas. While surveying, the teams remain on alert to respond to emergencies anywhere on the nation’s coasts. The teams are three-person crews who can transport the hydrographic equipment and 28’ survey boats to coastal locations where submerged debris or shoaling would cause a danger to navigation.

Two teams, currently surveying in Florida (NRT1 and NRT2), are now going through hurricane response checklists and ensuring fuel supplies. They are monitoring the storm and will put the equipment into a safe location if conditions require, so they are ready to roll when called. Two other teams (NRT4 surveying in Texas and NRT5 in Massachusetts) are continuing on their current survey assignments while remaining on call for emergency deployment, depending on where Isaac is headed.

The Coast Survey MIST — a mobile integrated survey team, equipped with side scan sonar equipment and an autonomous underwater vehicle — is ready to deploy from Coast Survey headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Additionally, a Twin Otter airplane is equipped and ready to conduct remote sensing and aerial photography.

NOAA also has several survey ships currently working in the Atlantic. The Thomas Jefferson, Ferdinand R. Hassler, and Nancy Foster are able to join the Rapid Maritime Response if needed.

Coast Survey will update this graphic as survey assets are deployed.