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Unique King County maritime emergency exercise tests mass water taxi evacuation capability

Summary

An estimated 70 volunteers took part in a rare emergency exercise Thursday hosted by King County – a drill involving a real water evacuation and deployment of a 100-person inflatable life raft on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Story

Each day thousands of people travel our local waterways on water taxis, ferries and other vessels. But what would happen if an on-board emergency triggered the need for a large-scale evacuation? How prepared is our maritime community to deal with such a life-saving evacuation?

An estimated 70 volunteers trained for just that scenario Thursday as part of a rare emergency exercise hosted by King County – a drill involving a real water evacuation and deployment of a 100-person inflatable life raft on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

“Chief among the things we have in common with other public and private maritime service providers in Puget Sound is concern for safety,” said King County Marine Division Director Paul Brodeur. “That’s why several agencies and organizations joined with us to train for the ultimate Mayday call – abandoning ship and getting our passengers to safety.”

The exercise on the M/V Sally Fox set out to simulate a real evacuation – from the decision to abandon ship and outfitting passengers with life vests to launching one of the vessel’s inflatable life rafts. The lessons learned through this multi-agency drill will strengthen King County’s water taxi emergency preparedness and offer lessons for other waterborne transportation services as well.

This latest exercise is just one of many multi-agency emergency scenarios water taxi crews train for. The drills help sharpen equipment capability and planning, and prepare crews to effectively respond to a major disaster or threat. And given the high-speed capability of the County’s water taxis, they will be able to play a vital regional role in evacuating personnel and supplies though our waterways if the region is faced with a disaster in the future.

For the first time, students planning careers within the maritime industry also gained valuable experience in managing emergencies on the water. An estimated 25 students from the Seattle Maritime Academy participated in the exercise.

“In my 25+ years in the maritime industry, I have never seen a 100 person lift raft deployed,” said Seattle Maritime Academy Director and Associate Dean Sarah Scherer. “This could be a once in a career opportunity for these students. The exercise was a great chance for them to see professional mariners leading a full scale drill.”

The exercise was an invaluable opportunity to see all that goes into an evacuation and rescue on the water. The partnership between the Marine Division and Seattle Maritime Academy was so successful that they plan to partner again by using the county’s water taxis as “living classrooms” for students planning maritime careers.

In all, eight maritime partners joined with the Marine Division in the exercise, including the King County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard, Washington State Ferries, Seattle Maritime Academy, Clipper Navigation, Argosy Cruises, Marine Safety, Inc. and Survitec Group.