Mass-rescue drill today in the Strait of Juan de Fuca to test response

The international maritime exercise will be the first in Port Angeles and will include the Coast Guard and more than a dozen other agencies.

PORT ANGELES — The U.S. Coast Guard and more than a dozen other agencies are teaming up for a mass-rescue drill today in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Port Angeles residents will see activity in the Strait off Ediz Hook and around the Port Angeles Coast Guard base beginning at about 8 a.m. today.

The full-scale international maritime mass-rescue exercise will be the first in Port Angeles, according to Lt. Dana Warr of the Coast Guard 13th District external affairs department.

In the drill, responders from both sides of the border will respond to a simulation of a passenger ship sinking.

Suits offshore

Sixty life-saving suits will be placed several miles offshore in the Strait to help simulate an actual response to the event.

Among the agencies involved in the drill will be the Canadian Coast Guard and Joint Rescue Coordination Center Victoria.

From this side of the border will be U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Clallam County Emergency Management, Clallam County Fire District No. 2, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Port Angeles Police Department, Port Angeles Fire Department, Olympic Medical Center, Olympic Ambulance, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Arrow Marine Group, Puget Sound Pilots and American Red Cross.

For some in Clallam County, it’s their first time participating in a drill of this scale.

Volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team from Discovery Bay Resort will act as victims during the drill for first-responders.

The CERT team was just certified Sept. 10, said Linda Enger, the team’s captain.

“We are the people who will help in a big emergency,” she said, adding the team works closely with first-responders. “We try to do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.”

Exactly how the Sheriff’s Office will respond is yet to be decided, said Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King.

The department will have staff at the incident command center and will see how the drill develops.

“As it develops we’ll look at assets needs from the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “There’s potential for a request for our marine unit as well as search and rescue.”

The Port Angeles Fire Department will have one person in the command center and will also have personnel at the Coast Guard base working with the Coast Guard on triage and transporting patients, said Fire Chief Ken Dubuc.

While it’s a maritime drill, Dubuc said the drill will help the fire department prepare its mass-casualty response.

“It exercises the same principles we would utilize for any mass-casualty incident,” he said.

While the Port Angeles Fire Department helps with triage, Clallam County Fire District No. 2 personnel will help with transport, said Sam Phillips, the district’s fire chief.

The district will have a chief officer working as a liaison officer in the emergency operations center and working directly with incident commanders, he said.

Phillips called the drill an opportunity for all emergency responders in the area to test their capabilities and prepare in the event there actually is a disaster.

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.

The Coast Guard conducts mass-rescue exercises every three years. The most recent was in 2013 and centered on the response to a downed aircraft in Elliot Bay.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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