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Coast Guard needs stockpiles of food, water for emergencies, report finds

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Some Coast Guard field units called on to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies don’t have stockpiles of food and water in case of emergencies, according to a new report.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that while Coast Guard field personnel serve as first responders for natural and human-made disasters, “agency policies about maintaining emergency food and water for field personnel are unclear.”

“Without emergency food and water on hand, these units may become disaster victims themselves – making it harder to help others,” according to the report.

For example, Coast Guard disaster preparedness policies do not identify a clear requirement for field units to maintain emergency food and water for their personnel, the report found. The U.S. Government Accountability Office surveyed 32 Coast Guard field units. Twenty reported they did not maintain emergency food and water supplies.

“Field personnel we met with or surveyed said they did not believe agency policy required their unit to maintain these supplies, or they were unsure about the policy,” according to the report. “In addition, agency policies and procedures about procuring emergency food and water are unclear and incomplete. This has resulted in confusion among personnel at several levels of Coast Guard field operations.”

One of the problems is that another Coast Guard policy prohibits buying bottled water under many circumstances, according to the report. Funding, staffing and storage also were identified as potential challenges to building and keeping emergency food and water supplies.

U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended the Coast Guard adopt clearer “policies and procedures about obtaining and maintaining emergency food and water could enhance field unit disaster preparedness.”

Coast Guard officials are taking steps to address the issue.

“Officials from the Coast Guard’s Financial Management Policy Division, who are responsible for managing the Financial Resource Management Manual, acknowledged that the manual did not fully reflect what field units are allowed to purchase and how to obtain approval,” according to the report. “They also agreed that Coast Guard policies and procedures should be clarified and cross-referenced across manuals, where appropriate.”

The report noted that “collectively, taking these steps would help to enhance field unit preparedness and better equip the Coast Guard’s frontline personnel to survive a major disaster.”

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