May 23, 2018
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Cruise ship rescue drill staged on Mount Desert Island

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The barricades, boats and ambulances were real, but the “wounded” were only volunteers playing the role of injured cruise ship tender passengers.

The significant presence of public safety personnel Wednesday morning in Bar Harbor was the result of an emergency response exercise, not an actual collision between two boats. But officials who staged the event wanted to make it as realistic as possible, and even had some students at New England School of Communications in Bangor play the role of media representatives intent on getting information about the incident.

The rescue training was held in Bar Harbor because of the amount of cruise ship traffic it gets each summer. This year, Bar Harbor is expected to get 118 cruise ship visits, most of them by larger boats that anchor in Frenchman Bay and ferry passengers to shore in tenders, between late April and late October.

Staff from Mount Desert Island Fire and Police departments, Maine Warden Service, U.S. Coast Guard, Acadia National Park and other agencies met Wednesday morning at the local fire station to get briefed on the protocols of holding the exercise. Around 10 a.m., the initial staged call went out over local agency scanners that two cruise ship tenders had collided in heavy fog several hundred yards east of the town pier and that more than two dozen people were hurt. Dozens of official participants and observers went to the pier for the drill, though in actuality there was no cruise ship or tenders in Bar Harbor on Wednesday.

Local boats stood in for the tenders, while other boats acted as good Samaritan vessels and helped bring some of the injured actors ashore. The scenario imagined that some of the tender passengers would have to be rescued from the water, but none of the actors went into the water for Wednesday’s exercise, according to local officials. By 1 p.m., the drill was completed, with all the role-playing tender passengers rescued, brought ashore and treated for their pretend injuries.

“I think it went great,” Anne Krieg, Bar Harbor’s town planner and public information officer, said after the drill. “They had the triage system set up pretty fast.”

To cut down on congestion and to replicate the conditions of an emergency, access to the town pier was restricted during the exercise. Krieg estimated that up to 150 people actively participated in the drill as role players, emergency responders or observers.

Nathan Young, Bar Harbor’s police chief, said Wednesday that the Coast Guard and cruise ship lines are required to stage such exercises every so often and that this year they decided to hold one in Bar Harbor and to include local, county and state agencies.

The drill makes sense, Young said, given the amount of cruise ship traffic the town gets each summer. The people who ferry cruise ship passengers to shore and back are usually cruise ship crew members who may not be familiar with the harbor and its depths, he said, and not all the tenders are equipped with radar or sonar.

Young said the last time a cruise-ship-oriented rescue exercise was held in Bar Harbor was at least 10 years ago and focused on evacuating a cruise ship. Wednesday’s drill was more about rehearsing how to bring injured people ashore and how to provide them emergency medical treatment, he said.

The police chief said that participating agencies are expected to trade notes over the next several days to critique how well their plans worked.

“It will give us a chance to see where our strengths and our weaknesses are,” Young said.

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