Team Coast Guard Coordinates Multi-Agency Mass Rescue Exercise

Coast Guard members from Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles stand by at a triage area during a joint agency mass rescue exercise in Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, 2016. Federal, State, County and Canadian agencies responded to a simulated vessel taking on water after hitting a submerged object near Ediz Hook Light and worked together to establish a Unified Command Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.
Coast Guard members from Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles stand by at a triage area during a joint agency mass rescue exercise in Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, 2016. Federal, State, County and Canadian agencies responded to a simulated vessel taking on water after hitting a submerged object near Ediz Hook Light and worked together to establish a Unified Command Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Sealfon.

Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound’s extensive area of operations extends north to the challenging waters of the Strait of San Juan De Fuca and on any given day more than 400 passenger vessels transit the Puget Sound.

One of the Coast Guard’s many responsibilities is insuring the safety of international ferry vessels that traverse this heavily trafficked area. Coast Guard Sector Field Office/Air Station Port Angeles, located on Ediz Hook, Port Angeles, Washington, sits uniquely positioned to respond to situations that may develop either with international transits or with vessels arriving or leaving from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

Neoprene cold water immersion suits float in water near Ediz Hook Light in Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, 2016, during a joint agency mass rescue exercise held in the area. Sixty life-saving suits were used to help simulate an actual response to the event. Volunteers from the Coast Guard Auxiliary acted as victims for first responders to medically treat on-scene or be transported to Olympic Medical Hospital. U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo.

Neoprene cold water immersion suits float in water near Ediz Hook Light in Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, 2016, during a joint agency mass rescue exercise held in the area. Sixty life-saving suits were used to help simulate an actual response to the event. Volunteers from the Coast Guard Auxiliary acted as victims for first responders to medically treat on-scene or be transported to Olympic Medical Hospital. U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo.

However, with the high volume of passengers carried daily across international waters, any potential disaster would quickly overwhelm current Sector Field Office/Air Station Port Angeles capabilities. To effectively fulfill its mandated mission, Sector Puget Sound is tasked to establish and maintain a Mass Rescue Operations plan to coordinate the response to a mass rescue situation.

The primary goal of a MRO is to adopt an all-hazard, capabilities-based approach to preparedness necessary to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from a maritime emergency which overwhelm local response capabilities.

The effectiveness of the Sector Puget Sound MRO plan was recently tested in late September by conducting a full-scale exercise in U.S. waters near Ediz Hook Light.

This exercise was initiated by the staff of the Sector Puget Sound contingency section that coordinated and put together an exercise planning team which consisted of Coast Guard surface assets, Coast Guard Auxiliary surface facilities and crew, multiple federal, state, and county agencies, and the Canadian coast guard and air force.

The mass rescue exercise scenario involved a fictional ferry travelling from Port Angeles to Victoria with 500 passengers aboard. Thirty minutes into the morning voyage, the vessel simulating striking a drifting cargo container and sustaining fatal damage, which required abandonment of the vessel. Within five minutes of receipt of the distress message, the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center was stood up at the Clallam County Sheriff’s office. Shortly thereafter, Joint Rescue Coordination Center Victoria was contacted for availability of deployable assets from the Canadian coast guard.

Coast Guard and Clallum Fire Rescue personnel work together to assess simulated medical injuries on patients during a joint agency mass rescue exercise in Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, 2016, after a ferry with 499 passengers aboard, struck a submerged object. The joint exercise is designed to better understand each agency’s capabilities and concerns during a maritime event which will test emergency procedures, search and rescue coordination, accountability of passenger and crew, medical surge operations and activation of the disaster medical emergency mass casualty plan. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

Coast Guard and Clallum Fire Rescue personnel work together to assess simulated medical injuries on patients during a joint agency mass rescue exercise in Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, 2016, after a ferry with 499 passengers aboard, struck a submerged object. The joint exercise is designed to better understand each agency’s capabilities and concerns during a maritime event which will test emergency procedures, search and rescue coordination, accountability of passenger and crew, medical surge operations and activation of the disaster medical emergency mass casualty plan. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

Converging on the scene in real time was the Coast Guard Cutter Wahoo, two Coast Guard Response Boat-Mediums, two Coast Guard Auxiliary vessels, and Arrow Marine’s Seattle Arrow. Within an hour they were joined by the 47-foot Canadian rescue-lifeboat Cape Naden and a rescue helicopter.

All vessels and a rescue swimmer were involved in retrieving “survivors,” performing on-site triage, and expediting medical transport to the triage staging area located at Sector Field Office/Air Station Port Angeles and onto the Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles.

At the triage site, Auxiliary volunteers, who had moulage applied by local high school volunteers, were staged based upon type and severity of injury.

At the conclusion of the all-day exercise, Capt. Joe Raymond, commander, Sector Puget Sound and Captain of the Port stated, “It was a great exercise and a great chance to build relationships.”

Lt. Erin Roberts, contingency planning section and exercise planning team leader remarked, “The exercise was successful and lessons were learned.”

Bravo Zulu to Team Coast Guard and all participating agencies.

Sgt. Paul Lloyd, a search and rescue technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force, walks on the runway at Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, during a joint agency mass rescue exercise. The Royal Canadian Air Force wings, located across Canada, provide military air resources in response to approximately 1,000 annual search and rescue cases. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

Sgt. Paul Lloyd, a search and rescue technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force, walks on the runway at Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, Wash., Sept. 27, during a joint agency mass rescue exercise. The Royal Canadian Air Force wings, located across Canada, provide military air resources in response to approximately 1,000 annual search and rescue cases. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi.

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