USCG, Navy, First Responders Complete Search-And-Rescue Exercises

MH-65 Dolphin helicopter
MH-65 Dolphin helicopter
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, May 20, 2022. SAREXs are held annually throughout the Hawaiian Islands. They are designed to evaluate notification and response procedures and identify shortfalls in communication and coordination of response during SAR incidents. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu.

The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. 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.

“This was the first time for me participating and assisting with planning or organization of our joint SAREX,” said Darwin Okinaka, an assistant fire chief with the Hawai’i 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 in Hilo, Hawaii 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,” Okinaka said. 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 helicopter crew and 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,” Lt. Lindsey Neumann, the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu command center chief, said. “SAREXs are great relationship building opportunities that test our interagency collaboration and capabilities to improve our operational effectiveness.”

A second open-water exercise was later held off Kawaihae with a similar case of an overdue Kayaker.

“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,” Okinaka said.

The stated goals of the Coast Guard search and rescue program are to minimize loss of life, injury, and property loss and damage in the maritime environment, minimize the risk to responders, optimize the use of resources, and remain a world leader in maritime search-and-rescue experience and effectiveness.

Agencies involved in the SAREXs on the Island of Hawaii included: Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Command Center; Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point Dolphin; Coast Guard cutter William Hart; the United States Navy SH-60B Seahawk Aircrew; Hawaii County Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Responders; Department of Land and Natural Resources Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement Responders; and the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement.