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As the new commander of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, Capt. Edward J. Cubanski III spends nearly half his time building relationships with federal, state and city officials, harbormasters and first responders, so they are not meeting for the first time and trying to figure out how to work together during an emergency.
"Those partnerships are critical because when things go south, whether it's a life that is in possible peril out on the ocean, or a law enforcement homeland security issue, you need to be able to call them Jim, Bill, Bob, Jimmy," said Cubanski, a Coast Guard aviator and Norwich native.
Many of these individuals converged on Fort Trumbull for a tabletop exercise last month in which they planned how they would respond if a tug and barge hit a ferry in New London Harbor. In such a scenario, where about 130 passengers and crew members need to be rescued, the Coast Guard would need their help because Coast Guard boats in the area would not hold everyone, Cubanski said.
In the spring or early summer of 2015, a full-scale exercise will be held with boats underway in the harbor.
In the meantime, Cubanski said the participants will modify their response plans based on what they learned so far, so they are "that much more ready if something did happen." One of Cubanski's recommendations to the group was that for medical evacuations, an alternate landing site should be set up at the Groton-New London Airport in case a helicopter could not safely land at Coast Guard Station New London due to the weather.
The Coast Guard follows a checklist during a mass rescue operation while other agencies have their own procedures. Cubanski said he may come up with one common mass rescue checklist everyone can use.
"We learn things today that we can immediately apply tomorrow," Cubanski said. "That's the best part about these types of meetings. There is no reason why you can't implement those right then, there. … That nugget of knowledge can be used to respond today, tomorrow or in 2015."
Waterford Chief of Police Murray Pendleton, who is co-chairman of the New London Port Security Group, said partnering with other agencies is "absolutely imperative" because "it's a given today that none of us can deal with any of these type of incidents by ourselves."
"Those people that used to operate independently are fast realizing the necessity of working together," he said. "You can do almost double what you do with a little help from various agencies, and when you really put your mind to it, you can do even better than that."
Public safety agencies in the local area are used to working with one another, Pendleton said, because they participate in the drills required for Millstone Power Station and coordinate during popular maritime events, including Sailfest and Operation Sail.
"We've had the opportunity to practice and work together frequently," he said. "That is something the rest of the state has not enjoyed as much as we have in southeastern Connecticut, but that is not to say that the rest of the state can't work as effectively together. That's the way of today."
Pendleton said Cubanski has been wonderful to work with.
Cubanski, who has led the sector since late June, oversees 14 subordinate units: seven boat stations, two aids to navigation teams, three cutters, a sector field office and a marine safety detachment.
Back in Connecticut
Cubanski spent most of his career in the south after he graduated from the Norwich Regional Technical High School in 1984, the Coast Guard Academy in 1988, and flight school in Pensacola, Fla., in 1992.
At Coast Guard Headquarters and later as the operations officer at Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron Jacksonville, Fla., Cubanski developed the policies and procedures so Coast Guard helicopters could disable the engines of "go-fast" boats carrying drugs in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, which could outrun Coast Guard cutters.
Cubanski managed the program from the time it was a "use of force" concept through the first drug interdictions, three of which he participated in. It was the most rewarding mission of his career, he said.
Most recently Cubanski served as the response division chief from 2012 to 2013 and as the incident management branch chief from 2010 to 2012 at the Eighth Coast Guard District in New Orleans, La. He also commanded Air Station New Orleans, the busiest all-helicopter search-and-rescue unit in the Coast Guard in flight hours for search-and-rescue cases.
In New Orleans, Cubanski said it was inspiring to walk through The National World War II Museum and see how it raised awareness about the "greatest generation." Cubanski said he thinks the future National Coast Guard Museum in New London will bring the great things that Coast Guard people do every day to the forefront.
"I can't wait to see it," he said.
Cubanski has family in Norwich. He and his wife, Shirley, and daughters, Zoe and Lily, live in Stratford. Cubanski said it is terrific to be back in Connecticut for a three-year tour, and he feels honored and privileged to lead the Coast Guard men and women of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound.
"My home state, the Sound I grew up on, the Sound that I sailed on as a kid," he said, "I couldn't be happier."