VITEMA to Conduct Full-Scale Maritime Exercise Next Week

The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency will conduct a full-scale maritime exercise in the St. Thomas-St. John district, testing the ability of first responders to deal with a simulated emergency at sea.

The exercise titled Operation Pillsbury Sound is to be held Dec. 10 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will take place at the following venues:

– Pillsbury Sound, the body of the water between St. Thomas and St. John;

– U.S. National Park Service docks at Red Hook, St. Thomas and Cruz Bay on St. John;

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– the Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas;

– and the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic on St. John.

In its news release announcing the test, VITEMA said normal ferry operations will not be interrupted by the exercise. If a major real-world incident were to occur, the exercise would cease immediately and first responders would return to their normal duties.

The test will pit local first responders against a fictional disaster at sea – an "explosion" aboard a ferry carrying 60 passengers on an excursion trip to St. John. To ensure the exercise is as realistic as possible, VITEMA will use a vessel on Pillsbury Sound, near Stevens Cay, staged with victims onboard – portrayed by actors.

The "injured" will be transported to Schneider Regional Medical Center or Myrah Keating Smith clinic as part of the exercise play.

First responders and emergency managers will be evaluated on:

–           on-site incident management;

–           marine search and rescue operations;

–           communications;

–           Emergency Operations Center management;

–           public information and warning;

–           on-scene security and protection;

–           and triage/pre-hospital treatment and medical surge.

“The purpose of Operation Pillsbury Sound is to get an accurate assessment of the territory’s emergency first responder, government, and nongovernment agencies’ capabilities during a mass casualty, all-hazard incident in a maritime environment,” said VITEMA Director Mona Barnes.  “This exercise will help us identify gaps and shortfalls in our current capabilities – from training, to equipment and response plans – so that we can make the needed improvements.”

Close to 20 government agencies, local and federal, are slated to participate including the Office of the Governor, the V.I. Police Department, V.I. Fire Service, Department of Health – Emergency Medical Services, St. Thomas Rescue, St. John Rescue, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Schneider Regional Medical Center, Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic, V.I. Port Authority, American Red Cross, Department of Tourism, V.I. Department of Justice, V.I. National Guard, WICO, the National Park Service, US Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and FEMA.

Commercial and recreational boaters may also take part, according to VITEMA’s news release announcing the operation.

Operation Pillsbury Sound is supported by DHS-FEMA Region II and FEMA-Caribbean Area Division.

“Part of FEMA’s mission is to support our territorial partners in getting prepared for all type of emergencies and maritime security is of special interest to all of us living in the Caribbean area,” said Alejandro De La Campa, FEMA CAD director. “We will be part of this exercise to support VITEMA, as we work together to ensure that we understand local needs and potential gaps.”

Following the exercise, VITEMA will hold an exercise “hotwash” where evaluators will discuss with participants, in a no-fault environment, their observations of went well and where adjustments should be made.

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