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Old 02-13-2017, 08:57 AM   #1
Icelander
 
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Default Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

Project Jade Serenity is a supers/technothriller campaign set in the modern day, near midnight on Friday the 3rd of February 2017, our PCs are on Jewell Island in Casco Bay, Maine. In our campaign, there is a fictional mental institution there, the Manhanock Asylum for the Criminally Insane, and it turns out that the guards are even crazier than the inmates.

Special Agent Danny O'Toole (PC), who is a federal law enforcement officer, was able to send out a distress call on the Coast Guard emergency frequency. He was cut off before receiving an answer, but he managed to get all the relevant information out, including the fact that officers were down and that his supervisory special agent was presumed to be kidnapped by the guards.*

Jewell Island is no more than 8 miles from Portland, which is a city, although only a fair-sized one at best. It would probably take far too long for any response by law enforcement in Portland to be relevant, especially as the island is federally owned and falls under the joint jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.** Any municipal or state police officer handed a transcript of the distress call will probably respond by waking up senior officers, seeking guidance from political figures and/or handing the whole mess back to a federal agency anyway.

What I'm wondering is what the Coast Guard might do. I know that they have a station in South Portland, which extremely close to the island (less than six miles), but I can't find online how many men are assigned to that station. It may or may not be the home port of USCGC Marcus Hanna, a Keeper-class coastal buoy tender with a crew of 25, but I have no idea how to estimate whether the cutter is in port or if it may be located many hours sail away on a duty cruise.

I'd think that O'Toole's distress call warrants sending a cutter by to take a look and trying to raise him on the radio again. He was able to recite his badge number and any necessary code words that CBP agents might be given if they have to call for help over a radio. I don't know how long it will take to respond in some way, however.

I don't know what, if anything, the Coast Guard could do if they were unable to reach O'Toole again, because radio traffic in the building we are trapped in is being suppressed by a short-ranged jammer of some sort, which is powerful enough to reduce handheld radios to static noise.

I'd also like to get some idea of what the closest Coast Guard cutter can do and how it is equipped. Would the Marcus Hanna respond or might they respond in some other way, perhaps with a cutter stationed somewhat further away, but with a law enforcement function?

Would whoever responded be able to tell that radio communications on the island are being jammed? Could they see from where? Could they do something about the jamming?

How would they react to being fired upon from the observation towers by .50 BMG and 40mm grenades from an MK 19? Do they have anything to shoot back with or are they limited to short-ranged smallarms for a boarding party?

How long would it take to get an armed cutter that could provide covering fire and land a tactical team or at least a pretty heavily armed boarding party on the island?

What needs to happen for them to be able to call in helicopters and how long would that take? How long to get helicopters that are armed or at least could deliver sniper fire that would suppress heavy weapons fire from the observation towers long enough for the helicopters to land armed people with arrest powers?

*Who might actually count as being in a state of mutiny, as several of them are USAR, Coast Guard Reserve or Maine Army National Guard, and they are actually under contract to the Federal Protective Service. As the fictional compound on the island includes a defunct Coast Guard forward base that is still officially classed as a mothballed facility under their administration, with a dock that receives regular visits from a Coast Guard cutter, it may even be that some of the guards who are former Coast Guards serve some days on active duty on the minimal administrative and maintainance tasks related to keeping the dock facilities usable.
**Because of the Coast Guard base there and also because the site used to be a black facility for unethical DoD experiments and while the outcry within government circles when this came to (limited) light wasn't enough to expose it to the public, it sufficed to quietly strongarm the DoD into closing down the experiments and allowing the bureaucrats who had made some discoveries to remove the sites from DoD control.
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Old 02-13-2017, 09:58 AM   #2
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

Having visited USCG cutters in NYC during fleet week I know that they will have at least 1 .50 BMG.
Many cutters will have a 20mm cannon (or larger) in a bow turret and a .50 BMG on port & starbord mountings (with gun shields). They will have lots of pistols and some M-16 family rifles. Maybe a few shotguns too.
Most coast guard stations & many cutters will have a helicopter too.
The helicopter will have a door mounted medium machine gun.
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Old 02-13-2017, 10:14 AM   #3
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

Do they carry an on-board sharpshooter? I should think there are more occasions for that then all that heavy stuff.
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Old 02-13-2017, 10:59 AM   #4
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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Originally Posted by jason taylor View Post
Do they carry an on-board sharpshooter? I should think there are more occasions for that then all that heavy stuff.
Good question. I know that the Coast Guard employs such people and they tend to carry an M14 Tactical (EBR stock, but 22" barrel), but I have no idea whether one will be on board the USCGC Marcus Hanna or whatever other vehicle happens to be closest to hand to come check out the wildly fantastic (but correctly delivered, with appropriate Electronis Ops and Savoir-Faire) distress call.
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Old 02-17-2017, 10:19 PM   #5
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
Good question. I know that the Coast Guard employs such people and they tend to carry an M14 Tactical (EBR stock, but 22" barrel), but I have no idea whether one will be on board the USCGC Marcus Hanna or whatever other vehicle happens to be closest to hand to come check out the wildly fantastic (but correctly delivered, with appropriate Electronis Ops and Savoir-Faire) distress call.
I would be VERY surprised to discover that a buoy tender had a sniper aboard.

As for where the cutter would be... look at the season and the repair cycle of the cutter. It is possible she is in a maintenance availability, or in port, or doing ATN repair work.

Jamming is (AFAIK) solved either by elimination of the jammer (HARM) or burnthrough (EW) neither of which I would expect to see as capabilities on a buoy tender. Even if they could deploy a kinetic countermeasure to jamming I cannot imagine a USCG CO releasing a weapon against a domestic target in such a circumstance.

I would think the best thing the cutter could do to help the players is investigate the distress call, get close enough to get shot at (thus validating the scale of the emergency) and withdrawing to a safe distance from which they would then call in a combat unit (likely for another agency) to address the situation and observe the facility to provide information.

[caveat---USN, not USCG]
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Old 02-18-2017, 07:12 AM   #6
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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I would be VERY surprised to discover that a buoy tender had a sniper aboard.
That's reasonable. On the other hand, with Sector HQ 8 miles away from the scene, any Coast Guardsman who is based there can probably be transported to Jewell Island or a nearby cutter fairly swiftly.

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As for where the cutter would be... look at the season and the repair cycle of the cutter. It is possible she is in a maintenance availability, or in port, or doing ATN repair work.
USCGC Marcus Hanna is supposed to be in dry-dock from February 16 to February 21 this year. That means that on Friday the February 3, 2017, when the game is set, it was almost certainly not under maintainence.

I still haven't tracked down where exactly it was that day. I don't know where the other cutters asssigned to South Portland were, either. Even if I don't find specific data on their positions, I'd like to have an idea whether Coast Guard cutters routinely operate at night, especially that close to port.

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Jamming is (AFAIK) solved either by elimination of the jammer (HARM) or burnthrough (EW) neither of which I would expect to see as capabilities on a buoy tender. Even if they could deploy a kinetic countermeasure to jamming I cannot imagine a USCG CO releasing a weapon against a domestic target in such a circumstance.
If our characters are going to die as a result of the US government bombing an island situated off an urban area, housing a maximum security facility, taken over by mutinous US servicemen, I demand that we die in a blaze of thermite plasma dropped by US 'Air Force' [sic] F/A-18 Hornets, as Bruckheimer intended, and not something released by Coasties.

Hmmm... Taylor's (my PC) new plan is to convince Agent O'Toole (PC) to tell his superiors that Taylor and Sherilyn Bell must have been evaporated in a blast during the final confrontation with the mutineers, as Taylor and Bell swim away into the sunset, to avoid being jailed/institutionalised again after these events. Just got to find SCUBA gear and wetsuits on the island.

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I would think the best thing the cutter could do to help the players is investigate the distress call, get close enough to get shot at (thus validating the scale of the emergency) and withdrawing to a safe distance from which they would then call in a combat unit (likely for another agency) to address the situation and observe the facility to provide information.
Well, the Coast Guard crew of whatever cutter or response boat is sent there will be acutely aware that the observation towers on Jewell Island mount an Mk 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher and an M2HB .50 BMG heavy machine gun, both of them manned at all times and fitted with thermal imaging targeting systems.

I know the Coast Guard is paid to go into harm's way and that they take their lifesaving and homeland security missions very seriously, but if they place even a shred of credibility in the report that the guard force is attacking people, it would be expecting more or less suicidal bravery of them to expect them to enter the effective range of these heavy weapons in a small response boat or light cutter, armed at most with a 7.62mm GPMG.

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[caveat---USN, not USCG]
Still better than relying on Internet sources without checking them against anything.
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Old 02-14-2017, 12:37 PM   #7
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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Do they carry an on-board sharpshooter? I should think there are more occasions for that then all that heavy stuff.
The Coast Guard does have personnel with (US Army) sniper training. They operate with the "HITRON" (Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron) unit based out of Jacksonville, FL, mostly in drug interdiction. There are also "Precision Marksman/Observer Teams" (PMOT), which are part of their Maritime Security Response Teams. Those would be available out of Boston, if needed.

Taking the word "sharpshooter" literally, they do have a markmanship course where high scores earn you a Sharpshooter or (better) Expert marksman ribbon. Graduates of this course are probably more common than the specialized anti-terrorism units. It's a skill in addition to your regular job, rather than a full-time task like the units in the first paragraph, so I'd think a GM could get away with assigning a decent rifle skill to a Coastie as needed.

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Old 02-15-2017, 02:23 AM   #8
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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The Coast Guard does have personnel with (US Army) sniper training. They operate with the "HITRON" (Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron) unit based out of Jacksonville, FL, mostly in drug interdiction. There are also "Precision Marksman/Observer Teams" (PMOT), which are part of their Maritime Security Response Teams. Those would be available out of Boston, if needed.
Boston is 103 miles away from Jewell Island. Their response time would then be determined by how fast someone in authority could make the call that this situation merited such an extreme response,* plus the 30 minutes to two hours needed to prepare a helicopter or fast response boat for a night mission and gather a tactical force and the time it takes to travel 103 miles by the chosen means of transport.

Of course, the problem is that if the radio distress call was a stupid prank by an unusually well-informed prankster, any kind of immediate response on a Friday night is really too much, as the guard force on the island can deal with its own radio problems and the bored investigators who need to investigate the computer crime can visit the island on Monday, when the work week starts.

On the other hand, if Special Agent O'Toole was telling the truth about the guards themselves, under the command of the Warden, having attacked federal agents, kidnapped and tortured one (who is urgently in need of emergency medical assistance) and may have kidnapped or killed another federal agent, a single helicopter would be an ineffective response.

If the distress call was essentially truthful, there is probably a hostage crisis on the island, with potential hostages numbering around 45-50 (most of them criminally insane mental patients, which is its own kind of security challenge) and the OpFor is essentially a paramilitary platoon emplaced in a strong position, with heavy weapons support and small unit tactical equipment that matches top-of-the-line 1995-2000 US armed forces load-outs.

Responding with any force which does not have at least numerical parity, armed air support and heavy weapons of its own would be suicidal and as likely to harm hostages as help them. A really adequate response force to the situation as described in the distress call would probably number over 40 tactical operators, several helicopters, at least two armed boats or cutters and support elements, including logistics, medical and psychological suites, of at least as many again.

How long to put together something like that from Boston, Air Station Cape Cod, Portsmouth, NH, and the local Coast Guard stations in Maine, such as Kittery, Rockland, South Portland and whatever others may apply?

*Remember, after the initial radio distress call by Special Agent O'Toole, which contained limited, if alarming, information, the Coast Guard has not been able to reach anyone on Jewell Island by radio. Calling the Manhanock Asylum for the Criminally Insane or the number for the mothballed Coast Guard facility on the island (still minimally serviced by Coast Guard reservists or Auxiliaries among the guard force) will probably result in the Warden or someone working for him answering, however. And they are unlikely to admit that they kidnapped a federal agent or two and attacked some others. They'll probably make up some story about a prank and/or 'hackers' messing with their radio equipment.

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Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Taking the word "sharpshooter" literally, they do have a markmanship course where high scores earn you a Sharpshooter or (better) Expert marksman ribbon. Graduates of this course are probably more common than the specialized anti-terrorism units. It's a skill in addition to your regular job, rather than a full-time task like the units in the first paragraph, so I'd think a GM could get away with assigning a decent rifle skill to a Coastie as needed.
I will certainly be arguing to my GM* that one or two of the crew of the nearest Coast Guard Vessel should be decent rifle shots and that even an unarmed coastal buoy cutter might carry an M14 Tactical rifle or two.

Unfortunately, the flip side of that is that I'll be making the case that out of 8-10 former Coast Guard among the guard force, most of whom were Boarding Team Members in their service and at least half of whom now belong to a private security SRT with special law-enforcement privileges due to being commanded and partially manned by part-time federal law enforcement officers, there will probably be at least one and maybe more people who are even better shots.

After all, the bulk of the guard force is composed of people who were already on Jewell Island at the end of the 20th century, back when the Coastie and Army contingents on the island were guarding an ultra-secret DoD black site where you needed a TS-SCI clearance to even know it was there and unauthorised personnel were shot on sight.

Twenty years later, probably none of them are in the same kind of shape that they were as twenty-two to thirty-five-year-old ratings/enlisted chosen for sensitive guard duty which demanded the most trusted men, able and willing to shoot intruders, but it's not like age 39-55 is too old to retain shooting skill. Especially if you make some effort to maintain it. And the Jewell Island SRT might have grown into a lazy, entitled group of undisciplined rabble as their commander slowly grew more insane, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that his insanity took the form of increasingly frequent and elaborate training drills, not their abolition. And as he's been stockpiling survivalist equipment worth at least several tens of thousands of dollars, I'm going to guess he bought pallets of ammo as well, so the guards might well have been enthusiastic range shooters in their copious off time.

*My role, in addition to player, is Assistant GM for research assistance, background, worldbuilding, plausibility, consistency and GURPS-rules compliance.
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Old 02-15-2017, 06:59 AM   #9
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
Of course, the problem is that if the radio distress call was a stupid prank by an unusually well-informed prankster, any kind of immediate response on a Friday night is really too much, as the guard force on the island can deal with its own radio problems and the bored investigators who need to investigate the computer crime can visit the island on Monday, when the work week starts.
The longer it takes to raise the Warden (Step 1 in determining the level response required) the greater the likelihood the response is escalated from "send someone out tomorrow to investigate the prank" to "send parity force and contact the Navy, we have a serious situation". Depending on the time of day this time could be as short as 30 minutes to as long as one hour (the operator on th island doesn't want to wake the Warden, etc).


Regardless, there would be no "waiting until Monday" to send investigators. Proper code clearance words were used, other operations might be compromised depending on the level of the leak that got this 'prankster' those code words.
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Old 02-15-2017, 08:18 AM   #10
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Default Re: Coast Guard response to distress call on Jewell Island, ME

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How long to put together something like that from Boston, Air Station Cape Cod, Portsmouth, NH, and the local Coast Guard stations in Maine, such as Kittery, Rockland, South Portland and whatever others may apply?
Insert the usual caveats... I didn't see any specific numbers cited for MSRT response times. But given their mission, organization, and they way they're stationed in multiple places around the country (unlike HITRON), I assume they're intended to have the same "immediate response" timeframe as other similar units, like the FBI's Hostage Rescue Teams, FEMA, or National Guard's CBRNE / Civil Support teams -- that is, nominally four hours. As you've said, the part that's going to slow that down is the decision-making by relatively high-level officials as to whether they're necessary.

Speaking of National Guard, Maine has both helicopter air assault units and a mountain infantry regiment. Those will be slower. (If the '92 LA riots are relevant, they can probably get a company or two together in around 8 hours, and most of the unit in about 24 -- again, once the local law enforcement admits that the problem is too much for them to handle and the governor decides that the NG is needed.) I suppose part of that decision is whether the powers-that-be know that there's something special about Jewell Island that demands they intervene. But there's certainly enough force at hand to put a stop to about 50 armed insurrectionists in a matter of a few days, if someone's willing to start all that shooting (and they're not worried about, say, their troops having their minds taken over by special powers...)
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