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Sequester cuts could impact Coast Guard

The sequester spending cuts could take effect this Friday, so ABC7 News looks into the potential impacts on the Coast Guard.
February 26, 2013 7:10:47 PM PST
A recent U.S. Coast Guard search cost several hundred thousand dollars and had hundreds of would-be rescuers searching for hours. That kind of money might not be easy to come by if the sequester spending cuts take effect this Friday. ABC7 News took a look at what will get cut if Congress can't make a deal.

We've heard about furloughs for TSA agents at the airport and for Border Patrol agents, but the Coast Guard is also under the Department of Homeland Security and facing similar cuts.

ABC7 News got an exclusive look at the Coast Guard's recent search effort off the Monterey peninsula. The Coast Guard's C130 flew out of McClellan Air Force Base. The flight to Monterey took only a few minutes, but then there was a long night of flying a search pattern over the ocean 60 miles off shore. The pattern was dictated by an on board computer.

"This computer is called SAROPS and they're able to take into all of the conditions that are going on. Is it night? Is it daytime? What's the sea state? What's the visibility? What is are the ceilings at?" said Coast Guard pilot Lt. Chris Courtney.

Courtney files Coast Guard helicopters, but says the C130 is equipped with the same kind of gear.

"And so the aircraft will basically fly for us that search pattern for us and free up both pilots and the crew in the back to actively look outside for the mariner or the vessel or whoever is in distress," said Courtney.

At night the crews wears night vision goggles, but that cuts down on their field of vision and it's a big ocean.

"When you throw in white caps and eight to 15 foot swells, it just makes it super challenging," said Courtney.

And now the Coast Guard is facing another challenge -- the sequester cuts that are due to begin this Friday. Unless Congress acts, the cuts could cut more than $400 million from the Coast Guard's annual budget.

This week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that would cut Coast Guard patrols by 25 percent. I asked Courtney if he has heard about pending reductions.

"I think for the most part residents in the bay have nothing to worry about. We will continue to prosecute search and rescue as it comes in here. I can't tell you how it's going to change the overall picture for the Coast Guard, but our mission here is to provide search and rescue capabilities for the residents of San Francisco Bay Area and Central California and that should not be affected at all," said Courtney.

Courtney says last year the Coast Guard station in San Francisco conducted 287 search and rescues cases. The station saved the lives of seven people and participated in the rescue of 17 other people.


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