SAIPAN HARBOR, Saipan – Over the past week the United States Coast Guard has been working with local crane operators and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist in cleanup following Typhoon Soudelor.
This is just one example of the inter-agency coordination it takes to aid in a disaster relief mission.
The headquarters for the Commonwealth Ports Authority of Saipan is the relief efforts operating center for the EPA and three divisions of the U.S. Coast Guard: the Marine Safety Detachment stationed in Saipan, Coast Guard Sector Guam and a Pacific Strike team from California.
U.S Coast Guard Science Technician Chrystin McLelland, the federal on-scene coordinator for Sector Guam, said her division is responsible for the safety of container operations, ensuring the oil pipeline at the port is operational, monitoring for hazardous materials (HAZMAT) and responding to incidents that may occur.
“The Saipan stevedores [local crane operators] are doing crane operations to lift the containers that piled up during the typhoon,” she said. “If they have HAZMAT cargo in them, we will come in and do a full cargo inspection on it and make sure that all the packaging is intact, that nothing is leaking and document all the containers. They’ll then be set aside for future use, for insurance purposes or to be scrapped.”
HAZMAT potentially includes pesticides, fertilizers, cleaning agents and items containing refrigerant.
Christopher Weden, the federal on-scene coordinator for the EPA’s Emergency Response Section, said once he has permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, his team of Coast Guardsmen will tend to HAZMAT with additional help from hired contractors and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We’re expecting mission assignments from FEMA for household hazardous waste, other hazardous waste concerns, and preventing those hazardous materials and waste from mixing with the general debris cleanup,” said Weden.
The EPA has worked out an inter-agency agreement with the Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team primarily for site safety and health monitoring during hazardous waste containment, for logistical support and other assignments where assistance is needed.
The Pacific Strike Team’s Response Officer, Chief Warrant Officer Paul Jones, said his team works with multiple agencies both local and national.
“Once we get a declaration of disaster, we serve as an emergency support function,” he said. “We’ll work for the EPA, we work for FEMA or any of the local stakeholders who have an interest. So depending on what the job is, it could be a variety of government and local entities. In a response like this you have to be pretty flexible.”
Whatever the mission, his team is glad to be in Saipan to help during a time when the local community is in need.
“Anytime there is work to be done everybody on the team wants to get out and do it,” Jones said. “It makes us feel good, and when it’s all said and done, you can look back on it as something to be proud of.”