US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
On Dec. 10, VITEMA conducted a full‐scale maritime exercise in the St. Thomas‐St. John district to test the first responder capabilities in managing a major incident at sea. Close to 20 local, state and federal agencies joined VITEMA on this effort to identify strengths, gaps and share information.
As part of the scenario, an explosion occurred onboard a ferry carrying 60 passengers on an excursion trip to St. John. To ensure the exercise was as realistic as possible, VITEMA used a vessel located on Pillsbury Sound, near Stevens Cay, staged with victims – portrayed by actors – onboard. The injured were transported to Schneider Regional Medical Center or Myrah Keating Smith clinic as part of the exercise play. First responders and emergency managers were evaluated on: onsite incident management, marine search and rescue operations, communications, Emergency Operations Center management, public information and warning, on‐scene security and protection and triage/prehospital treatment and medical surge.
“The purpose of Operation Pillsbury Sound was to get an accurate assessment of the territory’s emergency first responder, government and non‐government agencies’ capabilities during a mass casualty, allhazard incident in a maritime environment,” said VITEMA Director Mona Barnes. “This exercise helped us identify gaps and shortfalls in our current capabilities – from training, to equipment and response plans – so that we can make the needed improvements.”
Among the government agencies, local and federal, that participated in the exercise were: the Office of the Governor, the VI Police Department, VI Fire Service, Department of Health – Emergency Medical Services (EMS), St. Thomas Rescue, St. John Rescue, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Schneider Regional Medical Center, Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic, VI Port Authority, American Red Cross, Department of Tourism, VI Department of Justice, VI National Guard, WICO, the National Park Service, US Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Patrol and FEMA. Also, commercial and recreational boaters participated.
“Our ultimate goal is to enhance our Territorial Emergency Operations Plan by developing guidelines for how we manage, not just land-based, but maritime incidents as well,” Barnes said.
The day after the exercise, VITEMA held exercise “hot‐wash” where evaluators discussed with participants, in a no‐fault environment, their observations of what went well and where adjustments should be made. FEMA leadership, including recently appointed Deputy Regional Administrator, FEMA CAD Director and other key FEMA officials participated in the hot‐wash to provide input, guidance and support during the discussions.