Senior representatives from the public and private sectors met on Wednesday, July 20 to test and update the 2013 BVI Cruise Ship Incident Plan.
The test, which was in the form of a table-top exercise, was conducted during a one day ‘Mass Rescue Operation Planning’ Workshop organised by the Department of Disaster Management (DDM).
United States Coast Guard (USCG) experts were the lead facilitators of the exercise and included USCG Passenger Vessel Safety and Mass Rescue Operations Specialist, Paul Maurice Culver; Mass Rescue Operations Program Manager, Thomas Francis Gorgol; Passenger Vessel Safety and Mass Rescue Operations Specialists, Joel David Morgado Santos and Recovery Planning Specialist, Joseph Plasencia.
The BVI Cruise Ship Incident Plan makes provisions for a rapid, organised and effective shore-side response by the Government of the Virgin Islands to a marine disaster involving a ferry, cruise ship or other large marine vessel with displaced passengers and crew.
Director of the DDM, Sharleen DaBreo explained that the department is obligated to ensure the plan is kept current.
She said, “As part of the Department’s efforts to maintain a high level of preparedness, itis paramount that this, and other plans, are tested and updated regularly taking into consideration new developments and experiences which may need to be factored into the procedural guidelines for the plan, such as the newly opened Tortola Pier Park and the expanded docking facilities”.
The Director added, “Having a plan is important but that same plan will become inadequate if the agencies involved do not understand their roles and responsibilities during a particular incident/crisis.
This is why it was imperative that as many persons as possible were involved in the table-top exercise as we intend to update the plan with agency specific procedures.”
Approximately 45 persons attended the workshop, from mainly the emergency agencies but also included representatives from the agents responsible for cruise ships, BVI AirportsAuthority, Governor’s Office, Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR), Tortola Pier Park, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, Environmental Health, Ministry of Health, Conservation and Fisheries, GIS, Tourist Board, Immigration and the newly established Territorial Search and Rescue Team (TSART).
Also in attendance at the workshop was the Miami-based Disaster Management Advisor for the UK Overseas Territories, Helene Wetherington who understood the importance of the workshop and saw it fit to observe and contribute to the discussions.
DDM’s Planning and Preparedness Manager, Sheniah Armstrong explained that the size of vessels now being accommodated in our waters was alsofactored into the testing of the plan.
She said, “The BVI attracts large cruise ships with a carrying capacity of more than six thousand (6000)people and we continue to note an increase in the number of large ships and vessels visiting our shores on a regular basis. We can therefore have an influx of passengers at any given time, which will put a strain on our local resources. It is essential that we plan for these eventualities and identify priority actions that can be taken to address potential incidents that can occur”.
She explained, “The interactive table-top exercise, coordinated by the USCG explored possible emergency scenarios involving a cruise ship in BVI waters and sought to engage agencies using visual tangible models of the BVI environment. The exercise was formatted on the Incident Command System (ICS)-toolbox game board and was aimed at identifying and addressing gaps in our local planning arrangements for a mass rescue operation event”.
The ICS Toolbox is an international aid used for disaster response and first responders training.