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Arctic Domain Awareness Center Leverages Technology to Assist Circumpolar Operations

Finding technological tools to operate in the far north …

It’s not unusual for mistakes to be made during a big, complex operation like the emergency-rescue training exercise the U.S. Coast Guard and its partners conducted this week in Northern Alaska. But, mistakes while training are OK, says Doug Causey, a University of Alaska Anchorage professor and head scientist with the Arctic Domain Awareness Center.

Credit U.S. Coast Guard
Area residents and other participants in Arctic Chinook 2016 wheel a volunteer "patient" into a mobile medical facility set up in Kotzebue. The exercise was held to demonstrate the ability of local, state and federal emergency responders to help evacuate a 250-passenger cruise ship off Alaska's northwestern coast and care for evacuees.

“My experience is that in an exercise that, at the end, you’d say ‘Well, we solved everything,’ then you probably didn’t have a very good exercise,” he said.

Causey is principal investigator with the center, a sort of research and development organization that’s based out of UAA and funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security. Causey says the exercise, called Arctic Chinook, didn’t just test the ability of emergency operators to respond to a maritime emergency in Arctic waters.

It also gave the center a chance to look for ways to improve the flow of information coming in from all directions and relaying it back to operators in the field – quickly.

Credit John Gordinier/Alaskan Command
Para-rescue jumpers with the 212th Rescue Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, evacuate participants playing the role of cruise-ship evacuees using a Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter near Kotzebue during Arctic Chinook.

“How can you take ‘data streams’ like (reports about) wind – or waves or temperature or whatever it is – how can you put these together so that in a search and rescue response, that’s going to help the Coast Guard know what to do, or what to plan for?”

Causey says looking for solutions for sorting through the torrents of information, a process he calls “data fusion,” has been one of the center’s main missions since it was established about a year ago.

Randy “Church” Kee is the center’s executive director, and he says that problem is aggravated by the sheer size and remote nature of the domain over which the center seeks to maintain awareness. That is, the Arctic Ocean around Alaska and western Canada.

Credit John Gordinier/Alaskan Command
Coast Guard Cmdr Mark Wilcox, the agency's District 17 Arctic operations coordinator, explains details of the exercise to observers from Russia, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

“The Coast Guard has a time and distance problem,” he said. “It has enormous responsibility for not only the Arctic, but all of Alaska.”

Kee says the Arctic Domain Awareness Center uses data from research conducted by the University of Alaska and the center’s other academic partners to develop models to help Arctic operators, including industry, monitor conditions like sea ice extent and storm surges.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.