Commerce Club-CAPT Oditt: Always ready, Coast Guard bumps up planning, preparedness to meet future challenges

CAPT Kevin Oditt, USCG

CAPT Kevin Oditt, Commander USCG Sector Houston-Galveston  

CAPT Kevin Oditt, commander of USCG Sector Houston-Galveston, kicked off the Port Bureau’s 2018 Commerce Club Luncheon series. Hosted at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel near the Hobby Airport on January 11, Oditt presented the lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey.

“The Coast Guard was part of an amazing effort,” said Oditt. “ … And I now know why Houston’s called the Bayou City!”

Calling part one of the presentation a “scene setter” and streaming Coast Guard rescue video footage silently in the background, Oditt used the dramatic storm events to project what responders might need to consider in emergency preparedness exercises in the future. He described event on top of event that called for critical rescue missions from aviation and shallow water rescue teams that resulted in the saving of more than 7500 lives and more than 1400 pets. “The stress of operations on the helicopters reduced their ‘life’ by two or three years,” Oditt emphasized.

The communications triage at the command center processed more than 1,000 calls per hour. As recounted by Oditt, the calls handled by the command center represented a first in that calls also came directly from 9-1-1 and pleas were also relayed via social media. When the call volume maxed out the system, the calls rolled to other centers up the chain-of-command until reaching USCG headquarters in Washington, D.C. Rescue missions were then immediately coordinated and dispatched to meld with efforts underway. Utilization of this system not only supported the incredibly high call volume, but simultaneously kept the top brass keenly aware and involved in the ongoing crises.

Oditt praised the assistance that came from all areas, showing a roster of what he termed the “key enablers for success”. He specified the leadership and initiative of people as well as the partnerships with local, state and federal agencies and with industry at the head of his list. He cited the port coordination team efforts as crucial in getting the waterways open again quickly. Other key enablers named by Oditt were a decentralized command and control authority, the multi-mission character of the Coast Guard, the merits of Sector Houston-Galveston Section facility, and the help of the USCG joint information center.

Summarizing the challenges and lessons learned, Oditt named several aspects targeted for operational improvement. The first area is a more detailed communication agenda for setting port condition Zulu. After Zulu was set for Harvey, 17 vessels remained in port as conditions had deteriorated so rapidly the Houston Pilots could not safely move the vessels. Oditt foresees working intricately with the Pilots and the Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee to “link up our study of port conditions with theirs” to produce optimum outcomes.

The inclusion of 9-1-1 calls and the integration of social media for rescue requests were new factors during the storm events. These components are under review nationally to hone response systems. The Coast Guard is also expanding plans to address a broad range of urban search and rescue scenarios. This includes working with volunteers, although Oditt noted “only a few” needed Coast Guard assistance, and integrating efforts more with first-responders.

Wrapping up his comments, Oditt playfully held up the 2017 Pride of Texas Award presented by officials of the State Fair of Texas to the Coast Guard in recognition of their heroic relief efforts during Hurricane Harvey. Brandishing it outward to encompass attendees and highlight his appreciation, Oditt said, “Thank you for your support!”

  • Date February 20, 2018
  • Tags February 2018