The guardians of our waterways, our maritime first responders—the U.S. Coast Guard—have been around for a long time, longer than most people know. The Coast Guard was born on August 4, 1790, just 14 years after our country was born, when Congress approved Alexander Hamilton’s proposal to build ten cutters to protect the revenue of the new nation. Initially, the Coast Guard had another name: Revenue-Marine. Years before, voluntary organizations had built shore-based stations on the eastern coastline to help with shipwrecks. And in 1848 Congress started funding those organizations, which led to the official organization of the U.S. Life-Saving Service thirty years later. Finally, the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue-Marine merged in 1915 to create the modern Coast Guard. Since then, the Coast Guard has guarded our waterways in peace and in war, striding with progress, applying science advancement and using new technology.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) helps the Coast Guard better fulfill all of its missions by also striding with progress, leveraging research and development (R&D) breakthroughs to keep citizens safe and overcome ever-evolving threats to our climate and national security. Following are a few recent examples of collaborations with and for our “Coastie” partners.
Last week, we told you about how S&T and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helped the Coast Guard test different decontamination methods for one of the toughest bugs to kill—the spores of the anthrax bacteria. Back in February, S&T, EPA and the Coast Guard convened in Florida to apply three different disinfectants to a retired Coast Guard boat contaminated with benign anthrax-like spores. The boat was wrapped in plastic and treated with three different chemicals to see if they killed the spores. The results from these tests will inform how best to decontaminate a vessel if anthrax spores were ever found, and they could even be applicable to other microorganisms like the novel coronavirus. Next year, we will conduct an even larger test that will include Coast Guard bases and equipment.
We also recently published a new article and video highlighting highly-durable gloves we’re developing for Coast Guard helicopter hoist operators. Currently-used gloves often tear while operators guide the hoist cable during rescue descents and ascents, causing serious hand injuries and shortening the life of the cable. S&T collaborated with industry and academia to develop durable, comfortable and cost-effective hoist gloves and tested two prototypes at the Coast Guard’s Aviation Technical Training Center in North Carolina in December 2019. The assessment helped identify strengths and weaknesses of the gloves and their functionality; a report with the findings will be posted here on our website in coming weeks.
Another feature article shines a spotlight on our work to assess Powered-air Purifying Respirators for the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team. Operators often board contraband/criminal ships in full protective gear to search for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. However, sometimes their face masks fog from overexertion, making it hard to see. The Coast Guard needed better equipment to reduce discomfort and increase endurance, and S&T made sure their respirators met the necessary requirements. Now these responders can climb ships and fight the bad guys freely.
I saw firsthand how the Coast Guard supports and monitors even the harshest terrain when I visited the Arctic Domain Awareness Center of Excellence (ADAC) at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. The Arctic, with its harsh and unpredictable weather and vast territory, presents unique security challenges for the Coast Guard. The distances are enormous, and outposts are spread out in remote areas. But a warming climate attracts more traffic, and the Coast Guard must be able to rise to the challenge. S&T and ADAC are along for the ride, tapping into the latest R&D that government and academia have to offer.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two open Silicon Valley Innovation Program funding solicitations for Coast Guard technology needs: maritime object tracking that will strengthen waterway security, drug seizures, and search and rescue missions and language translator technology for rapid and effective real-time communication with non-English speakers and those who are unable to communicate verbally. These SVIP topic calls are open through early next year to attract and capture the most innovative ideas across the U.S. start-up community.
These are but a handful of examples of how S&T empowers the guardians of the water realm. But there is much, much more to share in the year ahead. We can’t wait to tell you all about it.
In the meantime, Happy 230th Birthday, Coast Guard! Thank you for keeping us safe!