Captains, engineers, pilots and commanders played out the action of the exercise at the exercise control station, shown above.
Rosemary Svenson holds a doll during the height of the mass rescue exercise. She played a mother with her child and watched as the boy playing the baby's father was carried away on a stretcher.
Andrea Chaudhary displays her triage tag aboard a catamaran during the mass evacuation exercise.
An EMT responder checks the triage card of volunteer Peri Reeve, left, who was instructed to act unconscious during the mass rescue exercise. Reeve was provided with fake vomit (made of cornflakes and petroleum jelly) to add an element of realism to the exercise.
Organizers and coordinators of the mass rescue exercise debrief at the unified command center at Ted Ferry Civic Center.
Story last updated at 5/6/2009 - 11:07 am
KETCHIKAN - 60-year-old Glenn Bowman is stricken with injury aboard the Alaska Cruiser as the ship grounds about 28 miles northwest of Ketchikan. The ship has experienced a fire in its forward switchboard room, causing it to begin taking on water. There are 1,800 guests on board as well as 700 crew members who begin to evacuate the ship.
You may be wondering why an event of this magnitude didn't make it to the news. The truth is that the Alaska Cruiser is an imaginary cruise ship that exists only for the purposes of a mass rescue exercise, which took place on April 28 in Ketchikan. The exercise was organized by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Holland America Line. Hundreds of people participated, including Coast Guard personnel, medical responders, cruise line employees and local volunteers. The goal was to create a plan, rehearse it and perfect it so that in the event of an actual emergency, responders would be well prepared.
PLAYING THE PART
The injured Glenn Bowman was played by Andrea Chaudhary, one of about 160 volunteers who were part of the exercise. Chaudhary, a senior at Ketchikan High School, participated along with fellow students as a field trip for a medical science class.
Volunteers began their day at the Ted Ferry Civic Center where they were given triage tags with descriptions of the cruise ship passengers that they were to play. Many of the volunteers were dressed for their parts, complete with fabricated wounds, fake blood and pale painted faces.
After a briefing and instructions, volunteers were taken by bus to a dock where they boarded catamarans that were to represent the cruise ship in distress. The catamarans then motored to a receiving dock where they were met by rescue personnel. Emergency medical technicians boarded the vessels to search for passengers who were "injured" and unable to disembark on their own.
Volunteers who were playing severely injured passengers were encouraged to act accordingly. Some acted disoriented, some screamed with pain and fear, some lay still as if unconscious and others became difficult with rescue personnel. The exercise depended largely on the imagination of everyone involved to make it as realistic as possible.
THE GAME ROOM
In a corner room at the Ted Ferry Civic Center was an exercise control station where the emergency scenario was played out, complete with an area map and model ships laid out on a table. It looked just like a big game of Risk.
"That's pretty much what it has been patterned after," said Brett Farrell, assistant director of the Marine Exchange of Alaska. "When all this played out, we obviously didn't really have a cruise ship sitting on a rock and we obviously didn't have a bunch of boats running around helping it or the 1,800 passengers, but that's what we were trying to simulate."
The exercise control room was the physical representation of what would be happening out on the water in an emergency evacuation scenario. Sitting around the table were the Alaska Cruiser's captain and engineer, a rescue helicopter pilot, a Coast Guard commander and other players who would be on scene.
"Since this really isn't happening, we have to keep it as realistic as possible," Farrell said.
In order to keep things true to life, out-of-control elements were added to the exercise. For example, every time a lifeboat was launched, the engineer would roll a dice. If he rolled a certain number, the lifeboat's engine would break down. Adding that element of surprise allowed members of the exercise to practice solutions to problems that are likely to occur in real life.
Coast Guard artist Priscilla Messner-Patterson observed the exercise to gain artistic inspiration. An oil and watercolor painter, she has been part of the Coast Guard Art Program for about 15 years. Much of her work is on display in Washington, D.C. and has also been shown in various locations around the world including Great Britain and the Netherlands.
Messner-Patterson plans to create two paintings inspired by the exercise that will be donated to the Coast Guard Art Program's permanent collection.
"The objective is to tell the story of the Coast Guard mission through art," Messner-Patterson said. "It's a great program and a wonderful opportunity for me to meet and be with the Coast Guard people."
Messner-Patterson spent the day taking photographs of various aspects of the exercise. She will later use the photographs as references for the paintings she will create. She said she was most inspired by the integration of cooperation between all the different parties involved.
"Specifically, there was a girl in (the tent) holding a baby doll," Messner-Patterson said. "I had to get out of there. I was getting emotional because she was really getting into the stunned look, so that will probably find its way into the painting."
Messner-Patterson said she likes to hear peoples' stories and create paintings from them. She said she only plans to paint one or two pieces from this exercise but she might get carried away and paint more.
From start to finish, the mass rescue exercise allowed for the practice of nearly every ingredient of a mass evacuation. In the process of practice, much was learned about what works and what doesn't. After the exercise was carried out, organizers participated in an after-action discussion and evaluation of what took place, called a "hotwash." Across the board, organizers and participants said that the exercise was a huge success.
Captain William J. Maroni, Jr, vice president of environmental management systems for Holland America Line, acted as chief of operations during the exercise. He said that the exercise was "an excellent team building experience" and showed successful cooperation between all players from a city, state and federal level.
"As with any exercise, you stumble," Maroni said. "You take baby steps and then you learn and succeed. We'll build upon this experience for future exercises or real world issues."
Dan Grausz, senior vice president of fleet operations for Holland America Line called the exercise a "tremendous success." He expressed that emergency preparedness is extremely important to the cruise industry.
"All of us do our jobs and we hope that nothing like this will ever happen to us," Grausz said. "This scenario, in many ways, was very realistic as to what would happen on a ship. Going through these exercises, knowing how to deal with them and seeing the kind of cooperation from the Coast Guard, from the City of Ketchikan, from the state and from everyone else participating is a huge encouragement to us because we know that in times like this, we're not alone."