Cross posted from my blog:

In light of our current support to flood rescue operations in North Dakota we have received queries that prompted me to share some insights on the Coast Guard’s roles and authorities in civil support.

The Coast Guard’s core roles are to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic and security interests in any maritime region in which those interests may be at risk, including international waters and America’s coasts, ports, and inland waterways.

The Coast Guard provides unique benefits to the nation because of its distinctive blend of military, humanitarian, and civilian law enforcement capabilities. Most recently, you have seen this in play as the Coast Guard has worked so closely and effectively with local and state first responders to protect the citizens of North Dakota, accounting for 93 rescues so far. What the Coast Guard is able to do and what it does in support of civil authorities will always be based on our legal authorities, capabilities, and mission requirements as determined by the needs of the specific event or scenario, always based on consultation with local, state and Federal agencies.

Using the North Dakota floods as an example, the legal authority for these operations stems both from the Coast Guard’s authority to conduct search and rescue and our ability provide assistance to other federal, state and local agencies when our personnel are especially qualified to do so.

14 U.S.C. 88 provides, in relevant part:

In order to render aid to distressed persons, vessels, and aircraft on and under the high seas and on and under the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction and in order to render aid to persons and property imperiled by flood, the Coast Guard may: (1) perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid persons and protect and save property…

14 U.S.C. 141 provides:

The Coast Guard, upon request, may use its personnel and facilities to assist any Federal agency, state, territory, possession, or political subdivision to perform activities for which the Coast Guard is “especially qualified.” This does not extend Coast Guard law enforcement authority (i.e. the Coast Guard does not gain the LE authority of any agency to which it is rendering assistance). Assistance meeting the “especially qualified” standard would include the employment of drug dogs, specialized equipment or techniques, use of vessels or aircraft, and other unique Coast Guard capabilities, but would not authorize Coast Guard personnel to engage in law enforcement activities ashore beyond the scope of organic Coast Guard law enforcement authority.

In this case, the capabilities at play are the Coast Guard’s expertise in and resources for search and rescue operations, particularly in maritime regions, including inland rivers. The mission requirements are met by continual coordination with local and state officials facilitated by representation at their county and state emergency operation centers.

Now, let’s move beyond current events in North Dakota, and look at other ways in which the Coast Guard can provide support to civil authorities. To start, here are some of the keystone Coast Guard law enforcement authorities:

14 U.S.C. 89: Authorizes the Coast Guard to go onboard any vessel subject to the jurisdiction or operation of any law of the United States, whether on the high seas, or on waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, in order to make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests for the prevention, detection, and suppression of violations of laws of the U.S.

33 U.S.C. 1221 et seq.: Under the Ports & Waters Safety Act, Coast Guard Captains of the Port have extensive authority to control the anchorage and movement of vessels, establish safety and security zones in U.S. ports and waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction; control the entrance and departure of vessels from U.S. ports, and take other actions with respect to vessels, ports and port facilities to prevent or respond to various types of threats and hazards from terrorist acts to environmental hazards.

46 U.S.C. 70118: Authorizes limited law enforcement activities for Coast Guard personnel ashore at maritime facilities. While at facilities, Coast Guard personnel may make arrests without a warrant, but only for offenses against the United States committed in the presence of the officer. This also authorizes Coast Guard personnel to carry a firearm in the performance of their official duties – wherever located.

14 U.S.C. 95: Grants law enforcement authority for Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) special agents commensurate with special agents of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, in the enforcement of statutes under which the Coast Guard has law enforcement authority or under exigent circumstances. This authority is applicable to shoreside investigations & law enforcement activity.

When you take a look across the broad spectrum of Coast Guard authorities (the above being just a few of the more relevant), and then examine our capabilities, you are able to begin developing potential options for employment of Coast Guard support to civil authorities beyond our regular maritime safety and security operations. Examples include (these are neither definitive, nor all inclusive):

— Command and Control (C2) – The Coast Guard could provide both qualified personnel and deployable and mobile equipment support to provide or enhance C2 capabilities.
— Law enforcement technical support – This could include bomb and drug detection equipment, including canine teams.
— Air operations – Coast Guard aircraft could augment and assist with surveillance, transportation, airlift, and other logistic support.
— Intelligence – Coast Guard personnel, including CGIS Special Agents, could assist in intelligence collection and analysis.

It is important to understand that these operations are in addition to normal mission requirements and the Coast Guard is not staffed, equipped or appropriated to sustain these without additional support. In some cases, it may be necessary to call on our critical Coast Guard Reserve for additional capability and capacity. Attached is a table that describes who can call up Reservists, under what type and duration of recall, based on what events/declaration. /Reserve_Authorities.pdf

To summarize, our support to civil authorities will always be based on our legal authorities, capabilities, and the specific mission requirements as determined by consultation with other state, local and Federal partners and tailored to fit the situation at hand. Close adherence to this formula allows us to effectively and efficiently apply our broad authorities and unique capabilities for the best benefit of the American public, always consistent with Federal law and in close cooperation with local officials.

Posted by TAllen in Coast Guard

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  • FOD Detector

    I’m hearing great things about the green water navy from folks in ND. BZ.

  • virgil xenophon

    The most authoritative after-action rpt on
    Katrina (A George MasonUniv rpt, IIRC) singled out 4 organizations: Wal-mart, Loews Hardware , Home Depot and The Coast Guard as the most effective organizations, and one’s whose organizational structure other disaster organizations should be modeled upon.

    All four organizations were seen to share the same characteristics–flexibility; excellent comm & logistics; local commanders/mgrs who had authority to act independently in a timely fashion; and stability of personnel such that they were integrated fairly well into the local community such that they knew who the key local political, medical, police and fire, wild-life and fisheries, Harbor patrol, etc. key contact people were–which enabled superior coordination. The CG really shined during Katrina and looks like they haven’t missed a beat from their performance so far in NODAK.