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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Coast Guard's rescue system updated

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Coast Guard officials said this week that a modernization of the National Distress and Response System would help to find missing boaters faster and eliminate "dead spots" for marine radio transmissions near the Big Island and Kaua'i.

The Coast Guard uses a network of VHF-FM antenna sites with analog transceivers to monitor distress calls to about 20 nautical miles from shore.

The $611 million contract with General Dynamics of Scottsdale, Ariz., adds a host of technology upgrades. The new system, called Response 21, will be the nation's primary maritime emergency communications system for Mainland coastal waters, Alaska, Hawai'i, Guam and Puerto Rico.

"This new system will be the maritime equivalent of a 911 system, enhancing maritime safety by helping to minimize the time that search-and-rescue teams spend looking for people in distress," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Response 21 will fill gaps in the current system and increase channel capacity to allow simultaneous communication on six channels (including main distress channel VHF 16), thus reducing the chance of a distress call being "stepped on" and lost by a stronger signal, the Coast Guard said.

Digital selective calling capability will transmit instantly a vessel's name, exact location, nature of distress and other information when used with an integrated global positioning system receiver.

Rescue 21 deployment will begin on the East Coast. Deployment for all regions will be completed by 2006. Because the Coast Guard often starts in the east and works westward, Hawai'i may be at among the last to get the system.

"It increases our ability to pick up distress calls," said Chief Tyler Johnson, a Honolulu spokesman for the 14th Coast Guard District. "Right now there are gaps in certain areas" that prevent calls from being picked up, he said, many off the Big Island and Kaua'i.