(Photo montage by Tracy Woodward)
The Coast Guard is the smallest of America's armed forces, with about 42,000 active-duty personnel. Their task is to secure America's maritime borders, about 12,380 miles in length – about six times that of the U.S.-Mexico border that has become a hot issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Coast Guard doesn't just provide border security, it also is the primary maritime search-and-rescue organization of the United States government.
It's a huge task, and the Coast Guard can be stretched very thin while carrying it out. Matters aren't helped when you have some joker making false alarms, and the Coasties have been dealing with a bad one in the vicinity of Annapolis, Maryland. Over the last two years, the Coast Guard has responded to 28 false alarms – costing the service over $500,000 – from the same person.
The money is not the big issue. $500,000 from July 2014 to the present is a drop in the bucket given the Coast Guard's budgets from 2014-2016 were just over $30 billion. The real issue centers around that fact that every mission launched means that Coast Guardsmen are risking their lives. That includes rescues, medevac missions from ships at sea, drug interdiction, enforcing safety regulations, training to keep skills honed, and of course, responding to false alarms. In the last ten years, two HH-65 Dolphin helicopters, a HH-60 helicopter, and a HC-130 Hercules have been lost during operations, with 18 of the 19 Coast Guardsmen on board being killed.
Lieutenant Commander Sara Wallace said in a Coast Guard release on this hoax caller, "Calls like these not only put our crews at risk, but they put the lives of the public at risk. Our efforts to respond to what may be a hoax can delay us from getting on scene to a real emergency." There is a reason that the Coast Guard's unofficial motto is "You have to go out, but you don't have to come back."
Penalties for calling in a false alarm include up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for expenses incurred by the false alarm. Those penalties would apply for each count the hoaxer is convicted on.
Anyone with information on the hoaxer is asked to contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service via e-mail at CGIS-Baltimore@uscg.mil or the Coast Guard Sector Maryland-NCR Command Center via phone at (410) 576-2525.