Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Marine Rescue Response

Today I had the opportunity to participate in a Washington State Ferries Marine Rescue Response exercise. The WSF puts on an exercise of this scale only once every four years as there is only one spare ferry in the fleet, and this takes two ferries to run. Basically the scenario is that one ferry breaks down or has some other emergency that requires its passengers to abandon ship. I volunteered as one of the passengers, although I was not one of the injured passengers. Some mannequins were even thrown in the water to serve as over board passengers.

Evacuating a ferry consists of the following simple steps. First, you assemble at the passenger assembly station. Then you lift up all the seats and find a life jacket. You put it on. Then you help the person next to you put theirs on, only to discover the problem is not that they are an idiot, but rather that the straps on their life vest are all messed up, so you need to find them a replacement life vest. Once that's all said and done, you are given a pencil. Then a zip tie. Then a form you fill out consisting of your name, address, medical history, boarding information, and emergency contacts. Once you fill that out, you zip tie it to yourself. But not your life vest, because that might be removed later, so to your clothing. Oh, right, and the boat you're on is still sinking.

So then you form a big conga line where you put your hand on the passenger in front of you. You wind down the stairs to the vehicle deck, and when it's your turn, you slide down the Marine Evacuation Slide (MES), which because the ferry you're on isn't actually sinking and is just part of an exercise, hasn't been loaded with cars and thus is riding much higher in the water than it otherwise would thus making the MES more like an MEC (Marine Evacuation Cliff).

Once you're in the life raft, hopefully you know how to make the self bailer work, because otherwise you need to hope the nice folks in the rescue boats have a bucket you can use to bail. They do? Great, pass it over! Oops. Quick, grab the bucket before it sinks. Oops, that sank pretty quickly. Anyone else have a bucket? Oh, you do? Great. Don't hand it over, toss it into the middle of the life raft. Clearly passing it is prone to user error, which results in an unrecoverable problem. Once you've started bailing the life raft, the rescue boats (one in front, one in back) will push (back) and pull (front) the life raft to the other ferry, where you'll re-board using a reboarding ladder (which gives you traction to climb up the MES).

On the way back to the ferry terminal after the exercise, we even got to see Orcas! Despite the bitter-sounding sarcasm above, today was incredibly fun, and a very valuable look at how a real shipboard emergency might play out. If you ever get the chance to do something like this, I highly recommend it! Thanks to the Washington State Ferries for inviting (or being desperate enough to invite?) King County Search and Rescue to participate in their training.

You can view all of my photos and videos, or you can take to the skies and see what the KIRO 7 TV helicopter saw [news article | video 1 | video 2]

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