See Something, Say Something; Looking out for safety

See Something Say Something Logo


We’ve all seen the posters: a suspicious pair of eyes or an abandoned knapsack over bold letters imploring us to report suspicious activity. The Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something Campaign” is a nationwide effort to report and interrupt potential terrorist activity. The Coast Guard, as a component of DHS, is charged with protecting the nation from the threat of terrorism alongside our federal partner agencies.

The Coast Guard is also a lifesaving service. So, in addition to public reports of potential threats to homeland security, we depend on the public to help us identify threats to public safety. Coast Guard units are ready 24/7 to respond to life-threatening emergencies, and the Coast Guard Investigative Service works to ensure our ability to preserve life and property is not compromised by criminal activity.  

The Coast Guard Investigative Service  is a federal investigative and protective program established to carry out the Coast Guard’s internal and external criminal investigations.  CGIS agents assist in providing personal security services, protecting the welfare of Coast Guard people, aiding in preserving the internal integrity of the Coast Guard, and supporting Coast Guard missions worldwide.

Detroit-based CGIS Special Agent Bryan Garbellano offered two examples of hazardous behavior that he investigates for criminal prosecution:

Lasering Aircraft

illuminated flight helmet

A Coast Guard flight helmet emits bright green light, similar to the light from lasers, which have continually harassed Coast Guard pilots around the country. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Lehmann.

Over the past few years the Coast Guard has experienced several insistences where its aircraft, more specifically our low flying rescue helicopters, are targeted with lasers, typically hand-held green laser pointers. Anyone can legally obtain one of these devices, but when the laser is utilized for means other than its intended purpose, it poses a significant hazard for the aircrew, bystanders, and anyone already in distress.

If a laser pointer hits someone in the eyes, the effects are immediate and can be long lasting. Being exposed to a laser can cause glare, afterimage, flash blindness, or temporary loss of night vision. Those effects are extremely hazardous in the cockpit of a helicopter. If any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight, the Coast Guard flight crew could potentially abort their mission regardless of the condition of a mariner in distress or progression of an attempted search and rescue.

Public involvement is a critical to addressing this threat. In addition to endangering the lives of the aircrew, lasing an aircraft can delay rescue missions and disable flight crews, risking the lives of distressed mariners in need of Coast Guard assistance. Past lasing incidents have originated in campsites, backyards and marinas.

CG Helo and CCG Boat

A U.S. Coast Guard aircrew from Air Station Detroit conducts a joint hoist rescue exercise in western Lake Erie with the Canadian Coast Guard 47-foot motor life boat Cape Lambton, from Canadian Coast Guard Base Amherstburg, Ontario, May 1, 2013. The training helps both crews to remain proficient and ensures they are ready to answer any call for help on the Great Lakes. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Browning.

Calling in Hoaxes

A call for help can be as brief as a single word uttered over a marine band radio, so the Coast Guard takes every distress call seriously. New technology, like the Rescue 21 communications network, allows search-and-rescue controllers to narrow the search area for boaters broadcasting distress, but do not remove our moral obligation to respond, investigate and assist, even if the call is suspicious.

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year responding to hoax calls. False distress calls tie up life-saving assets such as aircraft and boats and put crews at risk, impeding the ability of first responders like the Coast Guard and our partners to respond to real emergencies where real lives may be in danger. In some cases, the Coast Guard has offered rewards for information leading to the apprehension of a hoax caller.

What You Can Do

Both lasing an aircraft and making a false distress call are criminal felony offenses and are punishable by jail and fines. Anyone who observes either of these unsafe activities is encouraged to call 911 or the 9th Coast Guard District Command Center at 1-800-321-4400.