Future Coastguard

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Conduct of Operations

At present, HM Coastguard operates territorially in that the UK search and rescue region is subdivided into sub areas, resources are allocated specifically to them and each has an MRCC operating within that sub area. This is a traditional way of operating but brings about certain limitations with regard to efficiency. The current structure and infrastructure of HM Coastguard is based on 19 Centres with all but one of these collecting and managing data through an independent information and communication system. Whilst technically paired (except for Stornoway/Shetland) the systems and data sets are individual and the resilience offered by the pairing is wholly dependent on both systems being operational.

The consequences of this structure are that the national work of HM Coastguard is delivered in a number of discrete packages associated with each pairing. Due to this design each MRCC is staffed to cope with predicted worst case scenarios and, at times of peak loading, has to adopt a strategy of controlled load shedding. This means that when Search and Rescue or emergency response workload is heavy, other less urgent work (such as the provision of marine safety information, routine call handling etc.) is suspended. Furthermore, outside of the pairing arrangements, support to loaded MRCCs is extremely limited. The requirements of the future, with regard to our legal obligations and in terms of managing risk, mean that the shedding or suspension of such activities are at best undesirable with the very real potential to miss a hidden distress alert.

This mode of operation has also led to a situation where different centres have developed different skills and levels of expertise. This applies to both types of incident (that have greater frequency in certain locations) and specific functions (e.g. Falmouth – Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and International SAR activity, Dover – VTM, Aberdeen – Oil and Gas and CERs etc.).

Whilst this has undoubtedly developed centres of excellence and expertise, it has also introduced potential single points of failure.

In the new Coastguard, the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) and all of the Coastguard Centres will operate from a single national networked data and communication system. Each operator on duty will have the capability to connect to any of the national network of radio sites and to any of the operating systems.

The proposal will establish a single virtual operations network. Staff on duty anywhere in this national network will be trained, practised and capable of delivering any of the functions required of HM Coastguard for the UK. This broadening of expertise will develop the work of all staff in terms of variety, frequency and quality.

Work will be conducted according to requirement and service delivery and not anchored to a specified area or sub area. This concept of operations is therefore functional, rather than territorial.

SAR coordination operations in coastal waters present particular challenges. Such operations may involve several different organisations, and local factors will have a substantial impact upon decision making and the assessment of initial information. Most if not all of the rescue providers will be volunteers. As such, coordinators must be familiar with a geographical area to allow for trust and confidence in the decisions they make by the people they are coordinating. The proposed system will cater for this by ensuring a minimum standard of local knowledge amongst on watch operators, supported by standardised gazetteers, databases and geographical information systems that will enhance individually learned knowledge.

Operating under the overall command and control of the NMOC, work will be distributed across the network according to planning based on risk assessed factors including:

The NMOC will also have responsibility for monitoring the national picture and adjusting work distribution either by reallocating a task, or by adjustment of the size of areas allocated to teams, or by adjustment of the size of teams.

Functions of HM Coastguard


Created:28th December 2012 - - - - Last Updated:28th December 2012

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