Tuesday drill to practice response to maritime disaster

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. Tuesday.

PORT ANGELES — Hundreds of ferries and cruise ships ply their way in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and San Juan Islands daily.

If one filled with hundreds of passengers sank, how well would first responders coordinate rescues?

That’s the question members of the U.S. Coast Guard and some 13 other agencies hope to answer with a mass rescue drill off Ediz Hook on Tuesday.

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.

Residents will see activity in the Strait off Ediz Hook and around the Coast Guard base on the spit beginning at about 8 a.m. Tuesday and continuing for about eight hours.

It’s only a drill.

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

At a triage staging area at the Port Angeles Coast Guard station, Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers will act as mock victims for first responders to treat on scene or be transported to Olympic Medical Hospital in Port Angeles, he said.

Personnel from both sides of the border will participate. 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 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.

“Each day, there are more than 430 daily ferry crossings and numerous cruise boat tours throughout Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, with many of these carrying large numbers of passengers” said Capt. Joe Raymond, Sector Puget Sound commander and captain of the Port Puget Sound.

“As such, we need to be ready in case a marine disaster to one of these vessels occurs, potentially risking the lives of large numbers of our fellow citizens,” Raymond said.

“That is why we conduct exercises like this one with our many first responder partners on both sides of our border.

“It is only by planning and exercising together that we can ensure we are truly ready to seamlessly work together to save lives, protect property and reduce environmental impacts.”

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.

The last drill in Port Angeles was about 10 years ago, said Warr; that was a tabletop drill.

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