Real-Time Traffic Monitoring

There is no comprehensive system for real-time traffic monitoring. The capability that comes closest to achieving maritime awareness is that established by the Alaska Marine Exchange, which uses Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers to track vessels in the strait and along a large percentage of Alaska coastal areas. However, its coverage is not 100%, with significant gaps in northwestern Alaska and along the North Slope (Pt. Barrow and Prudhoe Bay being notable exceptions). Satellite-based AIS reception typically involves a time delay to coincide with overhead satellite passes, versus a continuous real-time display available with terrestrial-based receivers. Antenna placement on vessels may also influence signal receptivity by satellites, since AIS was designed as a line-of-sight terrestrial system. Moreover, the Coast Guard does not have its own AIS receiver system in place for this region and therefore maintains a close relationship with the Marine Exchange. The data from the Marine Exchange supplements its own on-scene presence through seasonal deployments of aircraft and cutters. The Coast Guard is currently evaluating traffic through the Bering Strait in order to determine if an internationally recognized traffic separation scheme is warranted (RADM Thomas Ostebo and 17th Coast Guard District personnel, personal communication, February 4, 2013, and March 18, 2014).

Incident Command Centers and Local Inclusion

The subregional contingency plans recognize the significant challenges for the RP and government to identify suitable Arctic command posts. Based on discussions with federal and state responders, it is very likely that a primary Incident Command Post would be located in Anchorage, which has sufficient infrastructure to accommodate the response effort. This has significant drawbacks in that it would be far removed from the spill scene in an Arctic event. For this reason, responders indicate that it would most likely be necessary to have a forward operating base to exercise tactical control over the effort. This is a reasonable expectation, and would greatly enhance the ability to absorb local expertise into the response effort. Absent a forward command post, local input would be more difficult to access, to the detriment of the overall response effort. An alternative would be to bring local experts to the primary Incident Command Post to enable consultation on a real-time basis, although this would be less desirable in that direct observation of on-scene conditions would be lacking. Fundamentally, the absence of sufficient inclusion of local on-site expertise can easily lead to ill-considered response decisions. Informal discussions with tribal leaders have indicated concerns that they will not be consulted in real time, and that critical decisions will be made in remote locations, using computer modeling, not validated by local knowledge and observations.

Workshops held in March 2013 in Alaska brought together indigenous experts and scientists to discuss ice and ocean conditions in the Beaufort and Chukchi region with respect to oil spill and other incident response (Johnson et al., 2013). The significant value of the collective knowledge of the ice-ocean system was demonstrated, in particular the understanding that local knowledge is essential for response planning. Recommendations of the collaborative study included identification of emergency shoreline staging locations and the ability to provide real-time tracking of very large floes.

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