Over 20 agencies and 100 volunteers participated in a simulated plane crash exercise Saturday as part of cross-agency training.by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal Staff
KNOX and WALDO COUNTY - Those heading out to sea in Penobscot Bay are a little bit safer after a joint exercise involving over 20 emergency agencies and nearly 100 volunteers took place on Oct. 13.
The exercise, which aimed at testing the readiness of the various emergency agencies in the area, was a simulated plane crash in the bay. 15 volunteers played the roll of victims, with 11 volunteers on shore at Lasalle Island and four members of the Maine Dive Team in cold-water gear “lost” in the water.
The search teams did not know where the victims were located, and only had a general idea of where to look based on information given at the start of the exercise. Their goal was to find them as fast as possible, and treat them for the injuries they had listed on information cards each volunteer carried.
“It's been in the works through Knox and Waldo county agencies for about a year,” said Charlie Jordan, the Fire Chief for Rockland. “It's a check on and a validation of our emergency response plans.”
Typically each organization works separately, in much smaller emergencies and exercises. Here, they got the chance to work together on something big and learn how to communicate with each other effectively.
“This is something we've seen develop really well in the last few years,” said Jordan. “We used to go and operate in a way called 'stove piping,' where we'd all remain sort of separate. We've realized we work a lot better when we communicate.”
The State Police, Maine Marine Patrol, and the U.S. Coast Guard provided leadership in the exercise, and helped coordinate the other agencies.
Ranger Scott Maddox was heading out with the Marine Patrol as one of the island searchers, acting under the information that they had seen smoke on the island.
“It's amazing how many agencies are involved,” said Maddox. “It's better to prep for it now then wait for a real emergency to come.”
Sebastian Arnsdorf, the C.O. of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Rockland, was helping coordinate the efforts of the various agencies, and emphasized the benefits of the exercise.
“Today's exercise is kind of a validation of all our work,” said Arnsdorf. “To get something on this larger scale doesn't always happen.”
Ray O. Sisk of the Knox County EMA was the director of the event, and assisted in organizing the various agencies and the volunteers to ensure the exercise was as effective as possible for everyone involved.
According to Sisk, the volunteers were mostly people that they had worked with in the past, and included members of the Ragged Mountain ski patrol as well as some members of the Waldo county government.
“We call them 'red shirts,'” said Sisk, as an homage to the Star Trek actors who were known for being victims in every episode.
“Most of the work is being done by volunteers at the island today,” said Sisk.
According to Sisk, the number of people involved was a “a bit overkill” for the nature of the emergency, considering in a real situation they would not have had the time to assemble that large of a volume of people and equipment in so short a time.
The equipment included a state Mobile Command Vehicle located in Harbor Park in Rockland, numerous coast-guard and marine patrol boats, and communications trailers located both in the Park and at the nearby Penobscot Bay Medical Center, which was also participating in the event. The exercise allowed everyone involved to examine how they set up their command posts, so that in the event of a real emergency their set-up times could be as short as possible.
Penobscot Bay Medical Center was also participating as a part of an evaluation of their emergency response.
“We do a safety check twice a year at least,” said Megan Williams, director of marketing and communications for Pen Bay Healthcare.
The hospital coordinated with the emergency services to have the same number of victims with similar injuries. However, the victims that were on the island and in the water did not get transported to the hospital. Instead, the hospital had their own set of volunteers that served as stand-ins for the victims that were outside.
According to Williams, Pen Bay Healthcare would post information about any events or accidents on their website, with up-to-date information on where to go and what to do.
According to Sisk, the exercises such as this are important for the services in the area, in order to make sure procedures are adequate and to make sure everyone is ready for a real emergency.
“The real benefit is they get to practice how to work and respond together,” said Sisk. “They can make a mistake and no one gets hurt.”