Coast Guard holds inter-agency search-and-rescue drills

  • Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew West An Air Station Barbers Point MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew retrieves a mannequin representing the missing person during a Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) on the Island of Hawaii on May 20.

The Coast Guard, Navy, Hawaii Fire Department, Hawaii Police Department, Ocean Safety and other responders successfully concluded two search and rescue exercises (SAREX) on the Island of Hawaii on May 20.

Coast Guard Sector Honolulu personnel hold SAREXs annually throughout the Hawaiian Islands which are designed to evaluate notification and response procedures and identify shortfalls in communication and coordination of response during SAR incidents.

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“This was the first time for me participating and assisting with planning or organization of our joint SAREX,” said Darwin Okinaka, an assistant chief with the Hawaii Fire Department. “Charles Turner, a Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Search and Rescue coordinator, and I connected and started planning back in 2020, and due to COVID, we had to cancel the exercise. Gladly this year allowed us to start up again. Due to the duration and many new faces in our rescue companies, I asked Charles if it would be possible to do an exercise on each side of the island, since we have one rescue company on each side. He gladly agreed and we coordinated in that manner.”

The first exercise began March 16 in Hilo with asset open houses at Hilo International Airport and the Port of Hilo.

“What was nice this year was that Charles had the idea of hosting a presentation “show and tell” day prior to the exercise days, which went into more detail about what everyone’s capabilities were, and how they could integrate with our operations,” said Okinaka. “This portion enhanced the experience for everyone tremendously. Because of that, we included all of our rescue personnel, not only those who were on shift that day.”

The following day the partners held a mock search for an overdue kayaker at the Hilo Bayfront Beach Park.

Once a simulated call was made to Hawaii County dispatch reporting a missing kayaker, the agencies established an incident command post and deployed response teams to conduct searches of the area for a mannequin representing the missing person which was located by a Hawaii Fire Department Chopper 2 helicopter crew and was retrieved by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart.

“Each Hawaiian Island is unique and presents its own challenges when it comes to the search and rescue mission,” said Lt. Lindsey Neumann, the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu command center chief. “SAREXs are great relationship building opportunities that test our interagency collaboration and capabilities to improve our operational effectiveness.”

On March 19, the partners moved from Hilo to Kailua-Kona for a second similar exercise holding an asset open house at the Kona International Airport and Honokohau Harbor.

On the final day, a second open-water exercise was held off Kawaihae with a similar case of an overdue kayaker.

Partner agencies established an incident command post and deployed their responders with the mannequin representing the missing person being found by the Hawaii Fire Department Chopper 2 crew and taken to awaiting medical services on shore.

“This truly was a great experience for us, and being able to make the relationships that we now have to better our collaboration in the future is awesome,” said Okinaka.

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