Emergency drill prepares local, state, federal crews
Local emergency management officials hosted a drill Oct. 13 throughout coastal Knox County as part of a joint training with Waldo County EMA. Participants simulated the response to a fictional plane crash landing in Penobscot Bay, according to Knox County EMA director Ray Sisk.
A command post was set up in Rockland's Harbor Park and additional personnel on boats, at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and atop Mt. Battie in Camden also were involved. Sisk said the goal of the training was to test communications between many agencies — an estimated 22 participated — representing local, state and federal crews.
"It was a fairly complex scenario," Sisk said Monday.
He said most of the goals set for the training were met, in addition to an unexpected twist at the end of the training as responders searched for the source of an emergency location transmitter accidentally triggered during the training.
"It was an unintended consequence that turned out OK," Sisk said, adding the locator transmitter was activated unwittingly by participants in the training.
A total of 124 people ranging from "survivors" to emergency responders spent Saturday simulating the crash landing and subsequent rescue. Sisk said 11 "survivors" were rescued from Lasalle Island and four additional “survivors — Maine State Police dive team members — were recovered from the waters of Penobscot Bay as well as an aviation lifecraft during the exercise.
Sisk said large scale exercises like the one on Saturday take place every couple of years.
"This is the first in a long time with both counties," he said.
The training sessions allow emergency crews to better plan and train for actual emergencies that might involve many agencies. While there were a few "hiccups," Sisk said the training overall went well. He said final reports from seven formal evaluators haven't yet been submitted but will be reviewed.
"We look for places to improve, primarily planning and training," Sisk said.
The location of the command center — Rockland's Harbor Park — was chosen by "unified commanders" in charge of the training.
"We wanted to be able to practice the scale of the responses without a physical location," Sisk said. "[You can find] a parking lot pretty much anywhere."
A total of 11 boats participated in the training, ranging in size from a 47-foot Coast Guard vessel down to small harbormaster's boats. Sisk said the training simulated a plane crash landing — noting there have been several small plane crashes in Penobscot Bay in years past — but said the large-scale response would be similar for a boating accident involving more than one watercraft or a singular ferry.
Sisk said another goal of the training was to “set up communications in a remote location,” a goal that was accomplished. A companion training exercise also took place at Pen Bay Medical Center at the same time.
“The triage piece went well, from what I've heard,” he said.
Saturday's exercise was the fifth in a series that began in May with a seminar evaluating federal, state and local responsibilities, Sisk said. That seminar was followed by another seminar addressing mass casualties, then team training and most recently a tabletop simulation.
Participating agencies included county and local responders from Knox and Waldo counties, Maine State Police, Maine Marine Patrol, Maine Forest Service, U.S. Coast Guard and American Red Cross.