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Volume 31, Issue 4

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New Orleans is known for food, jazz and a joie-de-vivre that comes alive at Mardi Gras. It promises to be a hot destination for New Year's Eve revelers this year, welcoming in the new century.

New Orleans is also the point of convergence for several industries, including petroleum, manufacturing and shipping. With international shipping, it is the gateway to the busiest inland waterway system in the world. For the US Coast Guard, managing the Port of New Orleans is an enormous task, without the uncertainties of Y2K. Add a host of unknowns at the end of this year, and the job of the Coast Guard seems overwhelming.

Why Lose Sleep Over The Port?

The threat of Year 2000 failures within the maritime shipping world is difficult to quantify, and hard for many people to understand. It is also a mass of potential failure points. Much attention has been given to critical control mechanisms, which must be checked for soundness within the navigation and propulsion systems of ocean-going ships, but this is only a portion of the port's Y2K issues. Loading facilities, treatment plants and refineries could also develop problems requiring rapid response.

Some commentators have dismissed concerns about Y2K failures in embedded controllers as "hype". Though the degree and likelihood of failures is still unknown, they will occur. Within the maritime shipping industry, several reputable companies have been forthright about their Y2k inspection findings. Global shippers have reported replacing or upgrading faulty components that control the navigation and propulsion systems of deep-draft vessels. Although the domestic situation is a concern, it's being looked after far better in the US than in many other countries. Of far greater concern is the high percentage of the 7000 annual requests for entries into the port by ocean-going ships that are of foreign registry. Internationally, Y2K readiness varies widely- some have been thoroughly inspected while others haven't been looked at. Coast Guard estimates put the percentage of ocean-going vessels that have not been inspected for potentially date-errant equipment at 20 percent. Some of these uncertified ships will come to call at US ports, posing a compromise of the port's safety.

To mitigate the greatest of these risks all port activity during the 48 hours of 31 December and 1 January will be the subject of intensive regulatory review. The issue has becomes a delicate balancing act for the Coast Guard. Local interests, such as refineries, are weighing safety concerns against the need to maintain production. Furthermore, there are several millennial celebrations planned for this New Year's Eve. Savvy marketers have begun advertising ship-based parties that promise to be quite lucrative. From a risk-management perspective, a large passenger vessel operating during critical Y2K rollover periods (GMT and LMT) is an unusually high risk. With the level of automation found aboard the modern cruise liner coupled with their size and passenger capacity, these operations constitute one of the most substantial threats in the maritime community. Managing these types of issues requires a solid set of strategies, tremendous vigilance and a new set of tools. This special challenge brought about the design criteria for the Port of New Orleans Emergency Operations Center, and the Coast Guard's rapid response strategy.

The Coast Guard's Mission

In late 1998 the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in New Orleans began a comprehensive Year 2000 readiness program with the overall goal of protecting the port and the people, vessels and goods through the millennial transition and coordinating the activities of the various parties involved. This mission has an internal and an external aspect. Internally, the Marine Safety Office has tasked itself with enhancing and proving its capability to perform its critical missions during the weeks around New Year's day. These critical missions include: oil and chemical spill response, marine casualty investigations and vessel safety.

Externally, the Coast Guard has the role of setting the standard for an industry that most experts consider lagging in Year 2000 preparation and carrying with it enormous potential liabilities. In a larger sphere, the testing performed and decisions made will guide their peers around the world, the majority of which playing catch-up to the US in their efforts to prepare for 2000. Thus far, the Coast Guard has documented several Y2K-based exercises built around realistic scenarios, including oil spills, ships adrift and failed traffic management systems.

The Port of New Orleans EOC Strategy

Being a point of convergence, the port is the place where the most maritime decisions will be made, and also the point most vulnerable to an incident. To enhance the decision-making process, and to help guide the port through several treacherous days, a joint, interagency Emergency Operations Center was conceived, and is in the process of being implemented. The New Orleans Port Authority hosts the emergency operations center at the Port Authority building located adjacent to the Riverwalk. The building offers an excellent view of the Mississippi River. The EOC is being moved to a second-floor lounge with an all-glass exposure on the riverside. While a great deal of effort is being made to outfit and test the EOC, the most critical work was begun earlier this year, as the Coast Guard attended meetings, raising awareness among the dozens of stakeholders in the area. The design of the EOC would be more than the details on phones and computers. Its form would be derived from the strategies developed from all participants.

The scope and assumptions of an EOC's strategy is a big determiner of its success. Many projects fail because the workers involved lack an understanding of the critical mission and strategies. For example, an EOC set up to protect the public safety or maintain commodity trading will have a greater chance for success than one designed for "tackling anything that comes up". The strategies resulting from a carefully thought out mission will more likely work than an assortment of generic plans.




Near Proximity Response Teams
by: Brett Young

A slightly different approach to incident management makes good use of the Coast Guard's distributed command model, using different tools. Where the HumVees and SATPHONEs may not match your organization's style, this approach takes advantage of small tactical teams that are rapidly deployable. The approach is called NPRT for "Near Proximity Response Teams". The idea is to create a temporary command center and staging area just outside the perimeter of an incident, and to outfit the team with a slimmed-down set of the corporate tools. This strategy is well suited for Year 2000 scenarios, where mobile operations can be designed in a very lightweight package, requiring minimal power to use.

While the National Guard or state HAZMAT team may want to jump right into the fray, your company probably would do well with a temporary office within a mile of an incident site. A good example of the effectiveness of the NPRT approach would in the case of a chemical release. Many of the older refineries and chemical plants hosted corporate offices adjacent to a production plant. This awkward and high-risk arrangement often evolved through growth, or was the result of a consolidation scheme. If the plant has a serious environmental incident, not only would the response team have to deal with the direct effects of the discharge or spill, but also their effort would be crippled by the simultaneous loss of the use of the office building. A "Near Proximity" response would have a team flown-in with comprehensive telecommunications and computing support, ready to set up shop in a motel room or other leased space.

Technological advances have made Near Proximity Response Teams more attractive than older approaches, such as headquarters-based command centers tied to laptop-wielding specialists in the field. Response teams can now use sophisticated networks routed through flexible, inexpensive routers to other teams or to headquarters. Satellite uplinks, thin-client technologies and virtual private networking enable organizations to respond with near-global ubiquity.

Two of the biggest advantages to rapidly handling an emergent incident are being there and being connected. While much emphasis is placed on executing a timely response, the response team's work environment is equally important. The NPRT approach addresses the quality of the work environment by appropriate use of current technologies.

Having an effective mobile command strategy gives your organization advantage in other areas, too. Aside from concerns of human life and material loss, the press must be dealt with. Being prepared to mount an effective response in a matter of hours not only facilitates managing the crisis, it will also give your organization a chance to meet the press on your own terms- confident and in charge.

The Coast Guard's challenge in formulating strategies for this EOC was working with the various stakeholders involved, each with their own perspective of the Year 2000. The point of view of an industry group, such as the oil industry, could be at odds with that of another group, such as the River Pilot's Association. The Coast Guard's initiative brought the viewpoints of the disparate groups into closer congruence by acting as a liaison at the various Year 2000 meetings. The starting point for exercising Year 2000 contingency plans is a set of assumptions. Since there was only a limited time to plan and stage the joint exercises, the assumptions needed to be fairly close to each other. The Coast Guard's preliminary work was encouraging each of the stakeholders to accept a common set of assumptions for planning purposes. The assumptions describe a "worst case" scenario. Specifically, the Coast Guard urged all of the participants in the Port of New Orleans Y2K Preparedness Project to prepare for several days' loss of most primary services, with the potential for civil unrest. Joint identification of potential threats and planning around scenarios built from these common assumptions quelled much potential contention among the players.

Among the strategies espoused by the Coast Guard, the preeminent one involves the optimal organizational structure during a crisis. The strategy puts the greatest level of preparedness at the command units in the field. The rationale is that in the worst case, with telecommunications and electricity out, the critical mission of an organization would be carried out solely by the functional units in the field while the headquarters is engaged in its own recovery. According to this approach, the high level planning and analysis of the command and control center is useless if the core missions of the enterprise can not be fulfilled at the lowest level. This strategy is elegant in its simplicity, yet it "flies in the face" of a great many crisis management schemes, which invest the bulk of the money and effort on a command and control center, while leaving the field operations far less prepared.

The Port of New Orleans Emergency Operations Center will serve as the command and control center for the port, but its value to the operation goes beyond that. It is also the communications hub for the main partners. As others, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, Harbor Police, and State Police have representatives there, the EOC serves as the catalyst for rapid communications. While each of the bodies represented in the EOC operate within their own networks, the EOC serves as the "network of networks" and "crossroads of contingency plans".



The EOC also facilitates interaction with outside entities, offering two conference rooms and a theatre-type pressroom. Since the City of New Orleans is setting up its own EOC to manage the city's concerns during the millennium roll-over, The port EOC will also have a hotline to the city's various groups such as the police, fire department and mayor's office.

On the facilities level, the port EOC will have much of the same equipment as the field units have. This includes food, lodging, water, generating equipment and radios. In the case of failed telecommunications, the EOC has the same SATPHONE (satellite-linked telephone) and line-of-sight VHF transceivers as the units. Thus the EOC is inherently functional, even when all essential services are down.



EOC Project Quick Start

When asked how he would handle another big project like the Port of New Orleans, with only four months to prepare, Lieutenant Shkor offered the following suggestions:

  • All players must "ramp-up" at the same time. Without sufficient time to stage a large project sequentially, every participant must build their part in tight coordination with the others.
  • Start two projects at once. Functional units must be developed while working on the central structure and strategies. Again, there is not the luxury of time for the "hub" to be fully realized before starting work on the "spokes".
  • Don't neglect exercises because the project is not yet finished. Work on incremental exercises during the process. Each exercise must reinforce the overall effort. An untested plan is more likely to fail and each exercise will probably provide new insights into the plan.
  • Strive for preparedness among emergency personnel. Just because the project is moving in "fast track" mode, the needs of individuals can't be overlooked. Don't let the project fail because of food, comfort or scheduling.
  • Have fun. There is still room for job satisfaction within a monster project. Look for opportunities to build camaraderie. You'll need it if there is an invocation.  

At the Coast Guard Unit Level

Contingency planning for 2000 presented a formidable challenge to the Coast Guard: maintain routine services while managing the port area through a potential mix of extraordinary events. This challenge was met by broadening the missions of each unit, overlapping capabilities and responsibilities.

Three of the Coast Guard's largest operational and support commands in New Orleans will be co-locating resources for Y2K operations. The Marine Safety Office, Group New Orleans, and Integrated Support Command New Orleans will all have personnel and equipment resources on immediate standby at the Integrated Support Command facility. The facility will maintain close contact with the Port EOC. Each unit normally performs a specialized mission, such as search and rescue, vessel inspection or river traffic management. For the coming operations, overlap will exist both within area of responsibility and client base. This coupling of resources will allow for more comprehensive support from each unit. Added support will include on-site medical and contracting support. This sharing of response assets will maximize fuel conservation and facilitate command and control. It will likewise heighten the level of command coordination for incident management.



Without the ongoing cooperation between the local government, port authorities, State Police, and Army Corps of Engineers, and Coast Guard, a project like this would have been impossible.

To insure preparedness without a lapse in ordinary duties, New Orleans' Marine Safety Office offered training for the sailors who staff the units, then reevaluated and improved the equipment assigned to them. The newly outfitted units are essentially self-sufficient, and are empowered to execute the Coast Guard's strategies even if communications fail within the chain of command.

Training for the Units

The first major area to address was the unit's capability to perform critical mission functions in 2000. As in any comprehensive contingency planning effort, and especially in the case of year 2000 planning, completion of contingency plans was only the beginning of the project. With no historical data to rely on, and so much uncertainty as to the potential scope of the problem, training and exercising were critical in developing personnel plan familiarity and the skills required to act appropriately in the face of worst case scenarios.

For the Marine Safety Office, this meant conducting training with backup communications gear (satellite telephones and handheld VHF units), transport vehicles (HumVee's), stack-packs required to shift operations, and using the Y2K communications plan. To test the efficacy of this training, a comprehensive drill was conducted May 27, 1999. This drill involved simulating a vessel power loss, collision, and pollution incident in the Mississippi River and then taking appropriate action. In this case, managing the dispatch and field reports from a pollution investigation team, a casualty investigation team, marine inspectors, and a port state control team while at the same time making notifications and managing interagency cooperation. While this is a difficult task on any day, the drill scenario compounded the problem by imposing a failure of all telephone and cellular lines and a loss of power. Only through empowerment and extensive training were the management and response teams capable of utilizing their backup equipment and contingency plans to ensure port safety and environmental protection.


The Other Players

The Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office is not the only entity in the port area to beef-up defenses in preparation for 2000. Several other players are working independently and in collaboration with each other through industry associations and port planning groups. To insure that the millennial transition passes smoothly, the Coast Guard has taken the responsibility of coordinating the plans and activities of the other big players. This approach is not a departure from the Marine Safety Office's normal method of operation. For instance, in the case of an oil spill, the MSO coordinates the work done by the oil company, specialized spill recovery teams and government agencies, such as the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

In a few months we'll know how effective the Coast Guard's preparations for the century change were. The EOC will either see action, or stand by, ready to serve. There is a high statistical likelihood that the coming year will see some unfortunate mishaps in the maritime and related industries due to date-related equipment failures. In contrast, the participants of the Port of New Orleans' Emergency Operations Center have made a tremendous effort at leaving as little to chance as possible come New Year's Day.

Lessons Learned

 1. Put the highest level of preparedness at the lowest organizational level. Push preparedness out to where the most work is being done.

2. Put the mechanism in place to coordinate the activities of the various stakeholders. All participants need to be involved through meetings and awareness activities.

3. Telecommunications failure is a planning necessity. Telecoms breakdown is the number one cause of emergency operations failure.

4. Make the exercises realistic. Time spent on exercises is very valuable. Make the most of it.

5. Separate the Crisis Management function from the Year 2000 function. It is easy to slide crisis management on to the post-Y2K project list, and run the project from the same office. Managing crisis is an altogether different discipline and needs to be looked at on its own.


LTJG John Shkor is the Contingency Planning Officer at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in New Orleans. His duties include development and coordination of all unit contingency plans (hurricane recovery, flood and high water, oil and hazmat spill response, etc.) . He is a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy and previously served as a deck watch officer and department head aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant (WMEC 617).

Brett Young is a Houston-based independent, specializing in organizational preparedness for 2000. He is working with Infocom Solutions, LLC. and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 281-342-4055.