August 12, 2008
Coast Guard special unit gets river rolling again
Thank the MTSRU for much of the Coast Guard's success in getting Mississippi River traffic moving again after the massive July 23 oil spill near New Orleans
MTSRU-- Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit -- is a unit of the planning section of the Incident Command System and is established for every incident that significantly disrupts the maritime transportation system.
MTSRU was created in 2006, after the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 required the National Maritime Transportation Security Plan to include a system to restore cargo flow following a national transportation security incident. Lessons learned on recovery issues following significant disruption of maritime transportation during Hurricane Katrina played a role in the formation of the unit.
The mission of the MTSRU is not new for the Coast Guard, just the formal creation of a specialized unit.
"We've done it for years," said Cmdr. Wayne Clayborne, of the New Orleans MTSRU. "We do it. Let's take that practice and institutionalize it."
After Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard established the MTSRU to counter significant economic loss due to prolonged port closure.
"The MTSRU is brought in when there is more than three days of port closure," said Clayborne.
This latest implementation of MTSRU is the second time it has been implemented to its full capacity since its establishment.
The MTSRU is made up of members of the Coast Guard, local government and industry leaders. The government and industry leaders are instrumental in providing barge, ship and facility information to the Coast Guard.
"It's a partnership with industry," said Clayborne. "This is a place where all the information can come together."
The MTSRU has the job of informing Coast Guard decision makers and other stakeholders at all levels on the status of potential impacts on maritime transportation following disruption. Its members work to define new organizational elements to support recovery efforts and ensure recovery is a critical element of planning at all Coast Guard levels. MTSRU members also identify communication mechanisms and informational requirements to facilitate the recovery of waterway traffic flow.
"It's not just about re-opening the river - it's about the entire infrastructure of the central, northern and southern parts of the United States staying alive," said Matthew Hahne, of the New Orleans MTSRU. "If we can't continue to move those barges, we shut down the entire transportation infrastructure of the United States. That's why the Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit is so critical."
Hahne said one of the biggest problems they encountered was finding what the national impact items were. Once they knew what those critical components were, they were able to shuffle the vessels and barges to meet those impacts.
"No one wants the lights to shut off in Florida, and because they get their coal from the Mississippi River, it's very important for us to bring the coal ships in so they can load the coal and get it down to Florida to keep the lights on," said Hahne.
If the future of the waterway is jeopardized, prices for commercial and consumer products could increase to potentially prohibitive points, negatively impacting both businesses and individuals. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is vital to the U.S. economy. It spans the five Gulf-coast states and is the third-busiest waterway in the U.S. It also guarantees the future of many businesses and individuals depending on its efficiency and economy.
Now, "everything is rolling pretty good," said Lt. Willie Pittman, of the New Orleans MTSRU. "It's a balancing act, but we get it done. We make the best decision based on the needs of each facility. It has been working out well, and we're making it happen."
Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher D. McLaughlin