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Homeland Security

It Takes a Team to Aid in Relief Efforts in Saipan

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS150814-05

Release Date: 8/14/2015 9:44:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David A. Cox, Saipan Harbor Public Affairs

SAIPAN HARBOR, Saipan (NNS) -- 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 the cleanup efforts during disaster relief efforts in Saipan. This is just one example of the inter-agency coordination it takes to aid in a disaster relief mission.

At the headquarters for the Commonwealth Port 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, Sector Guam and the Pacific Strike team from California.

U.S Coast Guard Science Technician Chrystin McLelland, the federal on-scene coordinator for Sector Guam, says her division is responsible for the safety of the container operations at the pier, ensuring the oil pipeline at the pier is working and ready, 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. They then use forklifts and move the containers for inspection where they look at them for damage or hazmat," said McLelland. "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."

Approximately 270 transformers are currently down in and around Saipan in addition to hazardous waste, which potentially include; 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 the go ahead from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) his team of Coast Guardsmen will set out to complete those assignments with additional help from hired contractors and the Army Core 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 Commonwealth Utility Corporation has also requested we assist them with the downed transformer gathering."

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, says his team works with multiple agencies both local and national.

"Once we get a declaration of disaster, we serve as an emergency support function. We'll work for the EPA, we work for FEMA or any of the local stakeholders who have an interest," said Jones. "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."

In response to the efforts of the Coast Guard and other entities involved, the support from the communities has been overwhelmingly appreciative.

"Anytime there is work to be done everybody on the team wants to get out and do it," said Jones. "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. Ten or 15 years down the road, that there was a major storm and the Coast Guard was out here helping the people of Saipan to recover from a tragedy."

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