Summary: Rescue 21 Alaska, Coast Guard’s maritime search and rescue communication system, has experienced outages resulting from antiquated equipment in Coast Guard’s District 17. Challenges and funding shortages during system acquisition caused Coast Guard to limit the purchase of new equipment for Rescue 21 Alaska, requiring District 17 to maintain existing equipment for longer than initially planned. Alaska’s winter weather conditions and remote access to communication site locations cause lengthy repair times, further exacerbating the outage impacts. The outages have prevented Coast Guard, at times, from effectively receiving and responding to distress calls from mariners. Coast Guard has made some upgrades to the Rescue 21 Alaska system to enhance distress communication availability and reliability. Although Coast Guard plans for further upgrades, outages persist. When notifying the public about the outages, Coast Guard primarily relies on a “Local Notice to Mariners” posted on their public website. However, this limits who can receive the notices, as not all mariners go to the internet to determine outage locations. Alaska mariners shared other effective methods Coast Guard could use to improve its notifications to the public when there are known VHF distress communications outages. Adequately upgrading the communications equipment and ensuring robust attempts are made to notify the public when outages occur is essential for Coast Guard to achieve its search and rescue mission in Alaska. We made two recommendations to ensure the Coast Guard is prioritizing Rescue 21 Alaska upgrades and appropriately notifying the public of outages. Coast Guard concurred with both recommendations.
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