Webinar

Protecting U.S. Waterways, Coastlines, and Maritime Infrastructure

Thursday, April 11, 2024
Speaker

Military Fellow, U.S. Coast Guard, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider

Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

Eric Doucette, captain in the U.S. Coast Guard and visiting military fellow at CFR, discusses the primary missions of the coast guard including disaster management, protecting U.S. ports and shorelines, and other areas where the coast guard cooperates with local officials both domestically and internationally. A question-and-answer session follows his opening remarks.

TRANSCRIPT

FASKIANOS: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Officials Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.

CFR is an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher focused on U.S. foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

Through our State and Local Officials Initiative, CFR serves as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics. Thank you all for being with us today for this discussion. We’re delighted to have over 400 participants from forty-seven U.S. states and territories. And as a reminder, this webinar is on the record, and the video and transcript will be posted on our website after the fact at CFR.org.

Each year, CFR awards five military fellowships to outstanding officers from each branch of the U.S. armed services. The Visiting Fellowship Program enables selected officers to broaden their understanding of International Relations while on active duty by spending a year in residence at CFR’s headquarters in New York. Our military fellows conduct individual research, contribute their knowledge and experience of their military service, and participate extensively in CFR meetings and events.

So with that, we are pleased to have Captain Eric Doucette from the U.S. Coast Guard with us today. He is CFR’s 2024 U.S. Coast Guard military fellow. Prior to this role, he served as the chief of staff for the Coast Guard’s Ninth Coast District, which encompasses the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, eight states, and a 1,500-mile international border with Canada. Captain Doucette also previously served in the White House as special advisor to both Vice President Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence from 2016 to 2018. So, Captain Doucette, thanks very much for being with us today for this conversation on the Coast Guard’s cooperation with state and local officials to protect U.S. coastlines, waterways, and maritime infrastructure.

The U.S. Coast Guard obviously serves many functions. I thought it would be great if you could begin by talking about your—or, the Coast Guard’s primary missions, and discuss the areas where the Coast Guard is cooperating with local officials both domestically and internationally, and where there are areas of opportunity for further growth.

DOUCETTE: Well, thank you. Thank you, Irina.

The Coast Guard, we’re a 50,000-plus person organization. And we’re spread all around the country. So we’re embedded with local communities within the states. And most other first responders think of the Coast Guard as part of their local team, because we happen to be there. So search and rescue operations is one of those areas, rescue mariners in distress or people that are out for recreational boating. And law enforcement goes hand in glove with that mission. Working with state police or other maritime or harbormasters. So the Coast Guard finds itself work law enforcement issues domestically in all the small communities around the country.

Environmental protection, that’s a big area that not only do we work with the EPA on the federal side, we work with the state arms that do environmental protection. We work with industry and private sector to address spill response plans or hazardous material response plans. We support FEMA during natural disasters with dealing with hazardous materials. But port security and safety, looking at the overall port operations that happen in our major ports and in our smaller ports, the Coast Guard worked closely with the Army Corps and also with state port authorities to make sure that the waterways operate just as safely as the highways and the byways of our country.

And then training and exercise. The Coast Guard is another force multiplier with local agencies, state agencies, and other federal agencies. They all do a great job shoreside, but also you have to do that operation in the maritime. The Coast Guard expertise with small boat operations, working in a maritime environment, we can help local hazmat teams, firefighters, in how to address issues that may be offshore. And then maritime planning and regulations. Working with development plans with port authorities or working with expansion or changes in how ports may operate. We are heavily involved, with our captain, the port authorities, working with state regulators and managing, again, those waterways. Just like similar to how the FAA would work with airports, and how to manage that type of change over the years.

And we do a lot of public outreach and education. We do partnerships in education. We do events with the local community. We try to get involved as much as we can, so that the community has free access to the Coast Guard in their community. On the international cooperation side, counter-narcotics and antipiracy operations. Capacity building with other nations. Most navies in the world look like a U.S. Coast Guard. And they don’t look—they don’t have aircraft carriers and destroyers, but enforcing fishery regulations, enforcing environmental regulations, boat and safety for their—or helping their fishermen of their—of their nation-state is an area that the Coast Guard has unique skills where we can help other nations trying to build their capacity.

Environmental protection. We definitely have a lot of expertise in that area that we can go around the world and help other nations that may have oil spills or their environmental disasters from ships. And then search and rescue, which is, again, our—one of our bread-and-butter pillars of what we do with domestically. It’s something that we can bring overseas and help develop capacities for other countries if they want to have a twenty-five mile—nautical mile offshore capacity for search and rescue. And you do that with helicopters. You do that with small boats. You do it with cutters and other—when I say cutters, that ship—that’s the Coast Guard term for a ship.

And so, it’s a global Coast Guard. Again, we’re everywhere in the country, even on inland rivers. So, if some of the listeners are of a landlocked state, you might not think that the Coast Guard’s part—we operate our ship inspectors and work with your local agencies along a lot of the byways where barges are—up and down the Mississippi, or in other—the Ohio River, and other locations throughout the country.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. That’s great. And are you—what are you doing to enforce illegal fishing regulations?

DOUCETTE: Well, I mean, so domestically we work, again, with the state wildlife officials, enforcement officials, that making sure that fishery—the state fishery laws, and the Federal fishery laws are enforced. International, one of the terms out there is IUU—illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. So, in fact, just this week, an agreement was signed with Samoa—the country of Samoa, not American Samoa—but where the U.S. Coast Guard could help enforce regulations within their exclusive economic zone. So, we can look for other state actors, or sometimes vessels that are stateless, that are they’re trying to fish in their EEZ. And no one’s regulating them, or inspecting what they’re catching, or how much they’re catching, or if they’re catching juvenile species, or protected species. So, we can board those vessels. And we have those cooperative agreements with a number of countries.

But now, in this day and age, you know, we’re using a lot of satellite technology and working with other partners to help target some of these actors that are out there, because those fish resources are protein sources for a lot of these countries that don’t have a robust coast guard, or a way to protect what they need for their fishermen and for their own populations.

FASKIANOS: Mmm hmm. Fascinating. I can continue on with questions, but I want to give people the opportunity to raise their hand. You can click on the raise-hand icon. And I will call on you to ask your question. Or you can type your question in the Q&A box. And we’d love to hear—for you to also share best practices or your experience, because this is a forum where you can exchange, and we hope that you’ll exchange, ideas and resources. So, we’re going to see if anybody has raised their hand. We have one raised hand. If you could identify yourself too, that would be fantastic.

Going first to Kelly Bartlett.

Q: Kelly Bartlett, Michigan Department of Transportation. Thank you for putting this out. Thank you for taking your time.

I have two questions, one kind of immediate and one farther out there. The first, the immediate question, been on everyone’s mind lately with the—you know, the tragic incident in Baltimore with the Francis Scott Key Bridge. I’m just wondering, what’s the role of the Coast Guard in a situation like that? You know, where there’s a critical waterway that all of a sudden has this event and it affects, you know, all sorts of shipping and land-based movements. So just wondering if you could walk through what your role in that would be. And then, more abstract, farther out, Michigan Tech University is doing some work on leading to, we hope, autonomous freighters around the Great Lakes. And I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on what pops first in your mind in terms of, whoa—we’d be really anxious about that or, you know, bring it on. So two wildly different questions, if I could.

DOUCETTE: Great. No, thank you for asking both those questions. So just to, you know, step back, before the event in Baltimore happened, in all the ports around the country there’s—you know, there are port authorities, to varying degree, that are regulated, managed by the state. There’s pilots. And then the Coast Guard itself, we have a number of committees, going back to our planning function, that we involve. And we bring all private and public sector together to discuss issues like safety of the port.

And so there are harbor safety committees. There’s area maritime security committees. And there’s area committees. The area committee deals more with environmental issues and threats, air and maritime security, that came out of the post-9/11 environment, brings a lot of law enforcement community together. And then the harbor safety committees, again, that’s the pilots, the operators, you know, the people that are operating that waterway to make the port safe, to make sure that dinner boat cruises can operate, that container ships or oil tankers or other ships that may carry hazardous materials, or if there’s visiting U.S. Navy ships, or even ships from other countries, that everyone is aware of how the port is operated. And in some ports that are busier, they have these vessel traffic services just like air traffic control.

So those committees would have said things like under-keel clearance, they would have set things—what that means is that when a ship comes in, it can’t touch the bottom of the harbor. And that might sound funny, but a lot of our harbors are silted. They require the Army Corps to dredge them. And so it—sometimes the ships actually do touch bottom when they come in. But most ports, it’s set at two feet below those vessels when they come in. And there’s tidal differences. So these are some of the safety things that get discussed.

Other things that get discussed in different ports where there may be some infrastructure at risk, maybe there’s a requirement. And, again, the Coast Guard Captain of the port in those different ports would help enforce those regulations or set those regulations through a rulemaking. But it would be a tug assist. So I was the captain of the port in Boston, prior to my time in the Great Lakes. And there—were there were liquefied natural gas ships would come in. And they had a big security footprint around them, with all sorts of states and local agencies. But at the same time, we had safety assist tugs that would help navigate them under the Mystic River Bridge and under some other some other tight spaces that they would operate.

Now, jumping to your other question—or, actually, before I do that, and so then, when you see the event that happened in Baltimore, there’s a number of other plans—the National Response Plan, the National Contingency Plan. And I would—my best guess is that those are the type of plans that help provide the framework for all the agencies to work together down there in Baltimore. And when that actual incident happened, you saw the Coast Guard performing search and rescue. But we don’t do that by ourselves. The state of Maryland, the local harbormaster, and other local police forces and fire departments were all involved in that effort. And then one point is the dive teams. So those are integrated dive teams with state police, local fire departments, and then there’s the broader operation of working with the Department of—I mean, excuse me—Department of Transportation and FEMA to help get funding and assets. I think there was a presidential declaration. And I think at least the initial $60 million that helped get some of the operations funded.

But—and then bringing in large cranes and other apparatus. That is a whole East Coast, you know, nation effort to bring the right equipment there. And when you see the pictures of the people cutting steel, and you think about how big that steel girder is, or if you drive over any large bridge, just how big that structure is. It may seem like it’s taken a lot of time to open that port up again, but it is a big structure and it takes time to lift each piece out, and to do it the right way. And they’re also doing it when there’s a natural high-pressure gas pipeline that’s right underneath a lot of that debris. So I know that a lot of care and effort’s going there to try to get that open quickly, but open safely.

On your question of autonomous vessels, that has come up. Again, back when I was captain of the port in Boston, I approved a small vessel—it was called a Datamaran. It was a catamaran, but someone mistyped D, and it stuck. And it operated—MIT was operating it. And collected data for offshore wind. But this little vessel could tack like a small sailboat. And it didn’t require any people on board. And we also had the Mayflower II that was coming—it was before COVID. It was supposed to be here for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower coming. And that vessel too had—it was a larger vessel. Didn’t have anybody on it. But even when it got close to shore, there was still—it was big enough that we would have to have some requirement that would have an assist vessel or someone that was with it.

But throughout the country, there’s all these efforts for autonomous vessels. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, they have offshore—large, autonomous vessels that go offshore for the space launch. And they would love for those to operate without people on board, or assist people. And we know it’s—we know that it’s coming. But it’s still—the rules of the road still require a human eye to be there, to intervene given any type of situation that could happen at a moment’s notice, and alert. And going back to Baltimore, though there will be an investigation to why that took place, but it appears that there was some sort of power outage. The pilot on board taking quick action, notifying their response network to stop other vehicles from coming on board that bridge, you know, saved lives. And so that human operator being involved, I think that’s going to be the trick with autonomous vessels, is how do we ensure that there’s still someone that can make quick action. They may or may not be on the vessel, but they’re going to need to be able to react quickly and operate with people in that local environment.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next—we have lots of hands raised—going next to Linda Grisby.

Q: There we go. Can you hear me?

FASKIANOS: Yes.

DOUCETTE: Yes.

Q: Good afternoon, everybody.

I’m curious about the invasive species in—

FASKIANOS: Linda, can you identify yourself?

Q: Oh, yes. I’m Linda Grigsby town of La Plata.

FASKIANOS: Thank you.

Q: You’re welcome. But I’m curious about the invasive species within the rivers. What are we doing to—what can we do to get rid of those more on a local level?

DOUCETTE: Yeah. So I just came from the Great Lakes. And invasive species are a big issue. And so there’s different places that we work in partnership. Again, a lot of it will be, like, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the state and local fish and wildlife entities. But there’s places where we will help with monitoring. We also do a ballast water program. So when foreign vessels come from other countries, they have to shift their ballast water, because sometimes that’s how invasive species came to our country in the past. And we test for salinity, to make sure that they shift—they shifted that water, so they’re not taking port water from a foreign country and bringing it to our country. That they’re actually shifting that at sea. Excuse me, one second.

And then there’s also a number of other devices, especially up in the Great Lakes, in the rivers where they have the invasive carp. Excuse me. And they have electric fences, and have other detection crews that will go out and try to harvest those invasive species so they don’t get into the Great Lakes. And we—again, we will work with any agency. One of one of the agencies we work with the most is NOAA. And they will help us with a lot of scientific support coordination with other species that we’re trying to protect. But invasive species is a big issue. I think if anyone is a recreational boater on domestic lakes a lot, there’ll be a lot of invasive plants, other issues, that they try to control going from lake to lake. But in the coastal environment, there are different species—green crab, a number of other—zebra mussels, that we’ll work with water authorities and other entities, in any capacity to help, you know, retard or slow down the growth of these invasive species.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question, a written question from Massachusetts Representative David Biele: Is the U.S. Coast Guard involved in any fisheries enforcement with foreign nations in the North Atlantic, like that in the Pacific?

DOUCETTE: Yes. We have ship rider programs. And so, you know, Canada being our closest partner, we will, in that neck of the woods, a lot of times U.S. Coast Guard vessels will be patrolling Canadian waters, and a lot of times apprehending U.S. fishermen that are operating in Canadian waters, to bring them back because. And it’s usually not the other way around, where the Canadians are coming into our waters. So we work—we have an agreement with Canada. And then we also have ship rider programs in the Caribbean and other locations, other countries. And we’ll bring their officers on board our vessels. they can see how our folks operate, to provide some education. We’ll take some of our best practices, like—things like fisherman’s nets, where they may be catching fish that have, like, turtle exclusion devices. So if the turtle gets caught in the net, the turtle can get out—has a way to get out.

And then also, we’ll inspect the hulls of the catch to make sure they’re not catching any species that are—that are protected or undersized. A lot of times we’ll do those fishery boardings at sea, but we can also work with other agencies to do those boardings at the pier as they’re offloading or trying to sell the fish. And then a number of the vessels also have beacons or—that they have to display. And, you know, we can track those by satellite, and make sure that they’re fishing in the right zones, in the right areas, that are open for fishing, versus the regulated or closed areas.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to James Murley with a raised hand. If you could identify yourself. Unmute yourself. There you go.

Q: Thank you, Irina. My name is Jim Murley. I’m the chief resilience officer in Miami-Dade County, where we have a deep water port. The largest cruise ship port. And we also have a shallow Miami River Port.

I would like to start by saying Sector Miami is a fantastic organization, the Coast Guard are professionals. We are a maritime border state and the interdiction responsibilities they carry out in multiple ways keep our citizens safe. So thank you, sir, for that service.

My question has to do with derelict vessels. I’m charged along the Miami River right as we speak with a vessel that the Coast Guard interdicted, and brought on, and found a place to tie it up. And, you know, if there’s a car on the street, I can get rid of that car. Because the derelict vessel’s tied up to—it’s a headache. You got any good practices we can do to deal with derelict vessels? Thank you, sir.

DOUCETTE: Absolutely. And I’ve come across that that conundrum and problem throughout the country. Even here in New York during Hurricane Sandy, we had a similar situation. A lot of the local laws on the books can be helpful about derelict property. And, again, it does get involved with the courts. And sometimes that can be sped up. But the biggest thing, if this vessel is in the water and it’s tied up, the biggest thing is we want to make sure that it’s not causing any type of environmental harm, you know, leaking oil or discharging. At the same time that it’s safe, that it’s being tied up, and that’s it’s being maintained and checked. Because in a way this sounds like this vessel—I don’t know the particular case of it—but it sounds like there’s no owner or operator. It was seized. And it was probably used for some nefarious activity. So it does become a conundrum on that part.

The particular case I had here in New York that I worked with, it was a large vessel, about a 300-foot vessel, very similar with some owners that just did not have the wherewithal to follow through. And when Hurricane Sandy caused that vessel to wash up on a—almost on a—on a street in Staten Island, we were able to, because of the pollution threat, remove it and lift it. That actually, one of the same cranes that’s down there in Baltimore now, it’s one of the Donjon cranes, lifted it up. In that case, we put the—we put this ship up on land, where it could be scrapped and cut up into steel. But that took a lot of time working with the City of New York.

And they used one of their abandoned property laws, similar to what you’re talking about with vehicles. We were able to use that as a way to get into the courts, and then have that vessel salvaged. And in the end, the city got a check back for like $75,000 for the worth of the steel from the scrap yard. But it is not always a successful solution, like, in that case. There’s a number of the cases that, you know, we’ve had to come in and, you know, clamshell or kind of dig the vessel out after it’s sank, in different situations. But I would definitely pursue the courts, and the property, and then the disposal method. And usually that’s going to involve hauling it up or putting it on land where it can be cut up.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to a written question from Trustee Wayne Domke of Roselle Village in Illinois: Do you work with Homeland Security on immigration? And if so, how?

DOUCETTE: Yes. So a number of times we’ll have encounters. One, the Coast Guard is part of Homeland Security, so we work with our cousin agencies on a day-to-day basis. So there’s some at the planning level, but if it’s a situation where we encounter a vessel, and it may be in the maritime in the offshore of the East Coast, if it’s a fishing vessel with either folks without documentation that are here—sometimes they’ll end up—as a job of last resort, they’ll end up as a fisherman. There are some rules in place that there’s a certain percentage—I think it’s 25/75—like 25 percent of the crew has to be a U.S. citizen if it’s a U.S. vessel, on these fishing vessels.

And if they have documentation, it’ll be fine and they’ll just continue working. But a lot of times, we’ll find folks that just do not have the proper documentation. Then we’ll work with the other Homeland Security, Immigration, and other agencies to determine whether or not they have a desire to have these people be brought in and processed. And that can take some time. But to say that we may also encounter people on a regular recreational boat and law enforcement activity. Up in the Great Lakes, it wouldn’t be unusual for us to come across people doing human smuggling as well, just trying to enter our country via recreational boat, coming from Canada. They found some way to get to Canada, and they wanted to get to the United States. And we also see people going the other way, leaving the United States trying to go to Canada. And so we’ll work with both countries’ the immigration services to try to process the people, make sure that at least they’re documented and known to be present in either country.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Andrew Parks, who has raised his hand. You can accept the unmute and tell us who you are.

Q: Can you hear me?

FASKIANOS: We can.

Q: Andrew Parks, director, Texas Senate Committee on Water, Agricultural and Rural Affairs.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. And I’ll echo the earlier sentiment, all of my interactions with the Coast Guard to date have been very professional. Really respect the guys you’ve got working for you. So all of my interactions with the Coast Guard up to this point have centered on disaster response. We’ve had several hurricanes in Texas over the last twenty years—Rita, Ike, Harvey, and others. Can you walk me through, first of all, how you plan for hurricanes and other natural disasters in abstract, and then in the—in the run-up to an actual hurricane, when you’ve got one off the coast, the kind of staging you do, the resources that you do, how you deploy them, et cetera?

DOUCETTE: Absolutely. Every year we’ll—because the Coast Guard, we’re the military, we move our people around. So every year, prior to hurricane season, we’ll have a national exercise which tests our Coast Guard internal capacity to communicate up and down the chain of command, all the way back to Washington. And we also test our ability for the different captain report zones—the different—like, the Port of Houston or the Port of Miami—that they can set hurricane conditions. And what’s meant by that, is it’s a way that we communicate with the port authority and industry that we’re forty-eight hours, or ninety-six hours out from a hurricane. You know, if your vessel can get underway and avoid the hurricane, we want them out of the harbor. If they can’t get underway because they’re in the middle of some sort of repair or fixing the engine, then we’re going to have to—you have to double up lines. We want you to remove any type of debris that can be washed over shore.

And so, we try to tighten up the port so it’s more resilient, given the nature—especially in the Gulf Coast, where you have these very large hurricanes. And then, going back to some of that planning that I mentioned before that we do with oil pollution, and we work with FEMA, this umbrella of plans that’s out there. Our National Contingency Plan, which deals with—you know, anyone can have a spill or hazmat release any day. That same skillset that we practice day in and day out with local, and state, and the commercial industry, we can use that during a hurricane. It’s the same people, we just fall under different plans, the National Response Framework. And that’s the FEMA plan, where all the different federal agencies line up. Like, the first thing in disaster would be transportation, get people out of there. So, the Department of Transportation takes the lead. But with Coast Guard, we’ll jump and do Department of Transportation support, because you can move a lot of people on cruise ships, you can move a lot of people on barges, or use our maritime highways to move folks.

At Coast Guard, EPA, we’ll do ESF 10, which is hazard material and oil spills, a lot of times household hazardous waste, industrial wastes after a big hurricane, and ESF 9, search and rescue. So, again, we’re using a lot of skills that we use every day, but we are underneath this National Response Framework. And then the states, we work hand-in-glove with them with their emergency operations centers. But I think where the Coast Guard really adds a value is that we’re working with industry every day, inspecting their ships, inspecting their facilities. We know each other on a—we’re probably on our rolodex or on our cellphones, and we call each other when other events happen throughout the year. So, when the big event happens, like a big disaster, there’s a lot of commonalities where they would have been in the same committee meetings that I talked about before.

And one other thing, just to add, we have another group. It’s not as well known. It’s more of an economic group. But they prioritize when the—when the harbors get back open, what ships have the priority to come back in. And industry gets together and works with us. And it may be that this particular industry, certain name, they’re low on gasoline. So, the first ship coming in is going to have to be gasoline. And so there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes when we do get the port restored. And I’m sure that they’re doing that in Baltimore, too. What are the first—what’s the first vessel coming in and what’s the first vessel going out. And so there’s a lot of collaboration that helps prioritize—even though these industries may be competing with each other, when it comes to disaster we find that they all work hand-in-glove with each other, to try to take care of each other’s needs, even though they’re competitors.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. I’m going to go next to a written question from Paul Brierley, who is with the Arizona Department of Agriculture: My son serves in the Coast Guard as part of a deployable strike force created after 9/11. I describe some of the unexpected roles the Coast Guard plays as giving us a military presence where we aren’t allowed to have a military presence. Can you talk about some of the joint and support roles that the Coast Guard plays to our other military services?

DOUCETTE: Absolutely. In fact, I was part of the deployable support forces. And we brought the team here from New York, CFR, down to visit the Atlantic strike team. Sounds like your son, and thank you for raising a great American servant, and it sounds like he might be with the MSRT, or one of the MSSTs, which are these—it’s probably one of our—the MSRT’s closest to what we have to special forces. They deploy around the world. They deal with piracy issues. They can deal with a vessel that’s been hijacked, just like an aircraft. They can do what they call an opposed boarding, and they can board these ships via helicopter or other means and neutralize any threat or risk that might be on that vessel and take the vessel back under control.

Those teams, when they’re not doing actual operations to respond, they train other nations. You know, their SWAT teams, or their specialized force teams that exist. And, again you can take one from shore and try to put them out in the maritime, but there’s a lot of different skills that are involved, and the equipment that—oh, did we lock up? Oh there we go. But then the equipment that you carry, you have to have buoyancy too. If you end up in the water, it’s not the time to find out that you have too much gear weighing you down. So there’s special equipment or kit that that they train with and that they use during those operations.

You mentioned about how we work with other countries. One of my jobs was out at U.S. Pacific Command. And I worked in Southeast Asia. And Vietnam has some—back a decade or so ago—had some really strict controls about foreign navies coming to their country. But when the Coast Guard would show up they’re, like, oh, you guys, you can come too. And you can even come back again, because the white ships, or even our C-130s are white with an orange stripe. So it doesn’t really give that warfighter impression to a lot of countries that may not allow the military to be present, or other agencies of our government present.

They see the Coast Guard as a humanitarian organization. We’re lifesavers, and that’s—they resonate with that, and they invite us back. And that goes back to my statement about where most navies and other type of maritime forces in the world resemble a U.S. Coast Guard than an armed service that just is a warfighting machine.

FASKIANOS: Great. Raised hand from John Jaszewski. If you could unmute yourself and identify yourself. We’re still waiting for unmute. I don’t know if there’s anything we can do on our end. Probably not. All right.

Q: Can you hear me now?

FASKIANOS: Oh, we can. It worked.

Q: OK. I’m John Jaszewski, calling from Mason City, Iowa.

I’m curious about flood control and mitigation. How does the Coast Guard interact, especially, you know, here in Iowa, we’re too far from the coast to be—you know, see much of Coast Guard. But I know you’re on the Mississippi. And what are things that you help local governments do to plan or mitigate the flood situations?

DOUCETTE: Yeah. Thanks for the question. And we—I mentioned before these strike teams that we’re on. And a lot of the Coast Guard on the rivers too, they have deployable teams that can go up normally—to places normally where the Coast Guard would not be, but now it’s a flood environment. And you have folks trapped in homes, trapped up in attics. Sometimes that happens, people climbing to the higher levels to get out of a flood, but they get trapped in their attics. So, we can—with FEMA and with state agencies—they can request the mission assignment. And, in fact, there’s not too much bureaucracy involved. If there’s lives at hand, the Coast Guard’s going to get there, and work, and figure out how to get there and save people.

But we’ll work, you know, hand-in-glove with your local sheriffs, your fire departments. And if they need, you know, flood response capacity, we have some deployable capacity. I mentioned before about hazardous materials. When I was on the Pacific Strike Team, Atlantic Strike Team, we would deploy teams to all sorts of landlocked states that had these floods. And the household hazardous waste would pile up wherever that kind of floods tsunami would end. And we would work with environmental arms to help recover all that material so it’s not sitting there seeping into the ground or the groundwater after the event.

But, yeah, the Coast Guard does deploy. There’s a lot of places I’ve had my Coast Guard jacket on or coveralls and be up in the high mountains of Colorado helping with a wildfire or helping with other disasters. And people would never think that they would have saw the Coast Guard present there, but—and we also have these incident management assist teams. And they can help out during the disaster. They were there in Baltimore. But they can also help our before the disaster with incident command system training and other planning and exercises ahead of an event.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next question from Pam Wetherbee, city councilman from the city of Beacon, New York: What is the status of adding anchorages for barges on the Hudson River, and why is this needed?

DOUCETTE: Yeah. I do know that there’s an effort underway, rulemaking. And I don’t have the particulars. So the captain of the port in New York will have the final details on anchorages. But from time to time, it’s—from my experience, whenever we determine anchorage locations it’s for safety, so that these barges—whether it’s the port of Boston or port San Francisco—it’s a place that’s designated where—whether it’s a fuel barge or it’s a gravel barge, a hopper barge that is there, we want industry to put them in a certain place that when they put the anchor down has the chain that goes to it, that barge will swing, around based on the winds or the current—in a river should be going in one direction but might not be as tidal up there like a harbor.

But by defining that anchorage, what you don’t want is someone with their sailboat or recreational boat anchoring their boat, fish or go to sleep, and then, without having designated anchorage, that barge swings around and hits that vessel, from a safety standpoint. So having it designated, be on a chart, people would be—you’d be able to notify people or ask people to leave that area where the barge is anchored for safety or during some sort of construction operation, or other event. So that way the barges aren’t just being put anywhere. There’s a designated spot for them to be, that’s safe for the—for all people that use the waterway. And protects the ship channel.

FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going next to Leslie Brosnan, who has a raised hand.

Q: Yes. This is Leslie Brosnan. I’m Titus County clerk for Mount Pleasant, Texas.

And with the power plants that have been shutting down in the last few years, does the Coast Guard work with the areas that have the lakes they will now need to be returned back to a natural state, on the EPA part of it?

DOUCETTE: Yeah, so early in my career I had some—there were a lot of coal-fired plants. And as those were torn down, we would put a lot of safety or security—safety zones around them while they were imploding them and protected them. But when that site becomes, like, a remediation site or, like, a brownfield site, that will usually switch from the emergency response side of what the Coast Guard would do, and it’s more of a remediation. And our authorities are limited there. We would rely on the EPA. We would rely on the state environmental arm that’s dealing with that remediation work.

But we do pay attention to those facilities that are in the maritime environment, especially the ones that do—that operate with vessels, foreign vessels, or any U.S. vessels. But there are a number of power plants that are now fed by pipelines, by LNG or direct fuel. And so then are—they’re not so much a regulated facility anymore, that the Coast Guard has authority over, per say, unless they have something that affects the waterway, like a spill or another event.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Councilmember Alan Mitchell, who’s in Greenville County, South Carolina: Thank you for your presentation today. Understanding that invasive species and waterways is a very important issue to tackle, does the U.S. Coast Guard ideally take the lead in identification and control? Or does Coast Guard take more of a cooperative support role? And what’s the best way for local government entities to support your efforts?

DOUCETTE: Yeah. I would—I would describe our role in that as support, because we’re not setting the laws or the regulations about the species. But when it gets into an operational, like, we’re going to go out—like a task force, and we’re going to pursue—we want to be aware of it, and then we would publicize—help publicize that, and help make sure that the operators who are out there can do their work without being impeded by recreational boating traffic, or whatever it may be. And, again, the Coast Guard work would tend to be in the offshore maritime environment. Inland rivers or waterways, in a lake environment, we may not have a jurisdiction there, unless there’s some sort of vessels operated there. But again, our limitations would be the vessels that are carrying passengers for hire. You know, if it was a lake that bordered two states, or some like that.

But one of the areas that we could certainly help is if you’re standing up teams, and it’s just—they’re going to be on boats, and you want to look at safety and what type of safety equipment—that’s a place that our Coast Guard Auxiliary, and I’m sure there are local Coast Guard stations, would be more than happy to help to make sure that your boat operators and the folks that you may be sending out in the field, that may be college students, that they have some awareness of the environment they’re going to operate in, so it’s safe for them to do the work that they have to do to tackle invasive species.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. And I’ll take the next written question from Rob Cole, who’s in the Florida Keys, I believe: I’m curious to know what the staffing trend has been in the Florida Keys. We note, and are thankful for, what appears to be an appropriately increased level of support for open water surveillance and interdiction efforts. And are curious if nearshore routine safety missions involving recreational boaters and the like have experienced reduced coverage due to other resource redeployment or staffing reductions/unfilled vacancies.

DOUCETTE: Yeah. So, the Florida region, just similar to the southwest border, but there’s a migration—we always, over the decades, have had maritime migration that happens from a number of the Caribbean islands. And so as those—the weather environment is suitable for people to transport to the United States via maritime means, we will surge staff from around the country. So when I was up in the Great Lakes, we would donate a lot of our resources, look for volunteers, but it was very common. I would send a pretty high percentage of our staff. And not just the Great Lakes. Throughout the country, we would send resources down to support the district in Florida, in the Florida Keys area. And these folks would be down there for a number of months to help support those operations. And then when the maritime migration would slow, we’d obviously bring those folks back.

We are nationwide, like a number of the services. And encounter a period of time where—there used to be a time that 90 percent of people that joined the Coast Guard would just walk into the recruiting office, and we had a constant supply of Coast Guard personnel. We’re a small service. As I said, we’re 50,000 people. We recruit about 3,000 people a year. That doesn’t sound like a big number, but we—our people are ambidextrous, and they do a lot of different missions. So once we get them trained up with a four, five, or six year, to have that type of person lead the organization, most people in the Coast Guard, about 40 percent, stay in for twenty years.

So when we start losing with retention, it does hurt us. We’re not used to—like I said, we recruit 3,000 people a year. The Department of Defense, big Army, big Navy, they recruit 3,000 people a day. And we just don’t have that type of throughput. So we are experiencing a challenging period right now. The way that we’re managing that is we have a number of seasonal stations. And that we may not open that seasonal station and put the staff there, but we’ll concentrate the staff at the main station nearby and provide the same amount of coverage by keeping the boats offshore patrolling that area. We may add additional cutter, larger ships, offshore, or helicopter patrols to make sure that we’re providing that same surveillance and mitigating any type of search and rescue or law enforcement event that may appear throughout the day.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. We are coming near the end of our time. So if you have final questions, please raise your hand or write your question.

And I do have one: How does the Coast Guard coordinate with other federal and international agencies to stop illegal drug trafficking?

DOUCETTE: Yeah. So actually not too far from our where our last questioner was is SOUTHCOM, and also at U.S. Pacific Command. And they have these joint interagency task forces. So there’s Joint Interagency Task Force South. And there’s an office within that command. And there’s probably seventy to 100 different agents and representatives, not just from the United States but from all the other countries. They’ll have other representatives, foreign representatives there. And they are from their version of the DEA or their customs agencies. And they work as a joint interagency team to address counternarcotics. And then the same thing goes out in the Pacific too. There’s a Pacific task force. So there’s Australian DEA agents that are right there in Hawaii working to help break down any type of bureaucracy between agencies.

And one of the interesting facts that years ago our ships would go offshore, and they would do patrols, and maybe they would come across drug runners, and they’d have a big capture. But now, all our ships when they go offshore they’re informed by intelligence. We were tracking the information. And so we’re having large hauls of drugs and contraband. And if you added up all the drugs and contraband that’s seized by domestic law enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard seizes is more of drugs and contraband at sea than all of the domestic agencies combined.

FASKIANOS: I was curious, I think we touched upon this earlier, but if you could talk about the role that surveillance technology plays in U.S. Coast Guard missions? And also, how is the Coast Guard now thinking about and repositioning—and thinking about the use of artificial intelligence?

DOUCETTE: So I’ve had the opportunity to be here at CFR and attend a number of artificial—so that’s where my thoughts have been this year, is how that can transform our service. So surveillance, to answer that question, the first part, satellite technology and being able to monitor offshore fishing in the Pacific, where maybe it takes weeks to get a vessel to, the fact that we can do that by satellite every day, or constant surveillance, or by having cameras or other radar arrays set up in different ports as ships come in and out to sell those catches of fish, or to take all the data and analyze that, again, AI’s ability to look at a mountain of data, whether it’s imagery, whether it’s sonar images, whether it’s audio—whatever that is out there that can be brought to the attention of the human, because the AI algorithm can be built to sift through and filter through that information to provide operators with better decision-making intelligence or information that this particular vessel may be operated in a shady way.

And, again, sometimes we do this analysis by what fuel vessels consume, and what parts they’re not consuming, might give us indicators to investigate further. But I see AI being very instrumental, even in our bread-and-butter mission of search and rescue. You know, right now throughout the country there’s a young Coast Guard third-class petty officer, with a headset that looks like this, listening for that mayday call. And we’re still mandate to listen to mayday calls. Which is—and it’s through audio. And they’re listening to everyone talk in that Marine band radio.

But if you had an AI device that could pick up: I’m in distress, I need help, or calling out for the Coast Guard. We do have some other technology where they just click their mic and we know where they’re at, and it takes the search out of rescue. But I can see where AI could get involved and, again, provide that information to the operator in a quicker way, and go through reams of photos and satellite images and make those vessels that we send offshore more effective in the missions that they’re pursuing.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. There’s a written question from Chris Cho, who’s a councilman in Closter, New Jersey: I just recently joined Flotilla 10-8, Bergen County, as an auxiliary member. I’m involved with an environmental group called Paddle World. It’s mainly a high school student volunteer group. Are there any programs with the U.S. Coast Guard that these high schoolers can donate their time doing volunteer work? And I thank you for your service.

DOUCETTE: Yeah. Well, one, thank you for being part of the Coast Guard, part of the auxiliary. So, for everyone else on the line, we have a—similar to the Civil Air Patrol—but we have a volunteer force. And they’re almost just as big as the Coast Guard that we pay. And there’s a lot of works that we’re—like, safety, recreational boater safety, that we’re not funded for but it’s one of the missions we do. And the Coast Guard Auxiliary does that by visiting marinas, and when people buy their boats, to educate them on what life jackets and how to outfit their boat properly, how to—how to read a chart, and all that. So the auxiliary does a ton of work to help basically do preventative search and rescue, make sure that people don’t get into a situation offshore where there’s a problem.

I forget the age, though, that people can join the auxiliary, but I have seen high school kids involved with the auxiliary. We also are starting—we were a little bit later than other services—but we have JROTC programs. And our goal is to have multiple JROTC programs in every district. There’s nine districts in the Coast Guard. And especially at inner city schools and other environments there. But that’s a way that we’re getting high school aged kids acclimated or aware of the Coast Guard mission.

And I think you mentioned a paddle craft. So, again, that there’s been a growth in these paddle boards, kayaks, you know, other types of—that aren’t your traditional recreational boat, like, a motorboat, or a canoe, or a rowboat. Those things are regulated, and in some places they’re not regulated, and they’re not a requirement for people to wear life jackets. And I have pictures of people paddle boarding up in the Great Lakes and there’s a floe of ice next to them. And they fell in that water, they would not have a long survival time without either a wetsuit or a proper life jacket. So, again, the auxiliary can get out there.

And the other message, to everyone that’s on the line, you may think that you’re too old, or it might be, to join the Coast Guard. Or you can join the auxiliary. You can be part of the Coast Guard. And it’s a lot of fun. And there’s—and if you’re into boating or the paddle craft, there’s an opportunity to get involved. So that’s a good point to bring up.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to go— back to John Dizuki—Jaszewski. Excuse me.

Q: Can you hear me now?

FASKIANOS: Yes.

Q: OK. I’m John Jaszewski, calling from Mason City, Iowa.

Talk about recruitment. What kind of young men and women are you looking for? And what kind of requirements would they need to join the regular Coast Guard?

DOUCETTE: Yeah. That’s a great question. Thanks for bringing it up. I tell you—you know, and I’m biased because I’ve been in Coast Guard thirty-five years, and I just wore my son into the Coast Guard last week. So it’s the high point of my career. And, you know, I would tell you that if you have access and know a lot of young, talented kids, whether they’re going to be high school graduates, they’re in college, and if they don’t know what they want to do, and they’re remotely interested in service to their country, environmental issues. I mean, we’ll take everyone. I think there’s—I think there’s a carve-out or there’s a mission in the Coast Guard, you can find something to do.

And it maybe it’s—like, even with my son, it was let’s get in the Coast Guard. And maybe he’ll get exposed to cybersecurity, something that he wasn’t planning to do. But by joining the Coast Guard he’ll get a security clearance. That’s going to help him with other jobs—he’s going to join the reserves. And I joined the reserves when I was in college. And that’s how—and now I’ve been in for thirty-five years. But, again, I think it’s a great—if you’re an interested in law enforcement, you know, we’re a law enforcement agency. If you’re interested in environmental oil spill response, working with the EPA one day, there’s a lot of skills you will acquire with the Coast Guard. We have medical professionals. There are so many different ways that we’re bringing people into the Coast Guard.

We have an electrician mate. So, we—and if someone’s already a qualified electrician, we’ll look at what credentials they have and say, you don’t need to go to our ten-week school, but maybe go to this week and this week, that gives you the marine portion of all the things you already know. And if someone has a medical background, we have medical professionals, and we’ll look at their credentials. And we’ll kind of—we’ll now custom to—this is very new. It wasn’t this way until recently. But—and they’ll even bring people in at advanced rate or rank based on their skills. So, if people were remotely interested, they should talk to recruiters. They should look at the Coast Guard website.

I’m happy to take any calls any day for anyone that’s interested in joining the Coast Guard. And, again, you don’t have to do it for life, like me. You can just come in for a couple years and be in the reserves or be on active duty and call that good and move on with your life. But I joined the Coast Guard, you know, I was either going to be a state trooper or I was going to be in the Coast Guard. And now I’ve traveled to seventy countries, I’ve had twenty moves, lived all over the country. And it’s been a phenomenal career of opportunity. So, I would encourage anyone that wants to have an opportunity, look at the Coast Guard, consider the Coast Guard.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful. We are at the end of our time. And I think that’s the perfect note on which to end. So, Captain Eric Doucette, thank you very much for your time today and for your service to our country. And, of course, we have really enjoyed having you at the Council this year. You have a few more months left before your fellowship comes to an end here. Thanks to all of you for your terrific questions. We will send out a link to this webinar recording and transcript. And you can learn more about CFR’s military fellows and browse their work by going to CFR.org and, as always, for other research and analysis on many issues and topics. Please also go to ForeignAffairs.com and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for other developments and analysis on international trends and how they’re affecting the United States. And, of course, do share your suggestions for future webinars by emailing [email protected]. So, again, thank you. And we hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

END

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