Following a series of search-and-rescue (SAR) operations in the past decade that ended tragically, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation challenged the service to define a better way forward. “To put it simply, each SAR case represents a life on the line. . . . We must ensure that the hand extended to those in distress is as strong as it can possibly be. And I say that we can do better, and we will,” stated Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) during the September 2009 hearing.
The Coast Guard subsequently implemented significant changes to its SAR oversight policy. In one noteworthy change in 2011, the Coast Guard defined SAR mission coordinator (SMC)—whose responsibility is mission oversight—as a specific individual ultimately accountable for the execution of a SAR case. This required the creation of a cadre of proficient and accountable SAR professionals. However, limitations on who could serve as SMC, failure to address fatigue, and initial discouragement of on-call duty rotations increased the risk of mistakes.