Photo by Mark Gibson
A man watches from The Dalles Marina as a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescue team pulls a “victim” from the Columbia River during a mass river exercise in The Dalles Wednesday.
As of Thursday, May 17, 2018
Rescue helicopters, patrol boats, search and rescue teams, incident response teams, fire engines and ambulances from multiple agencies converged on Riverfront park Wednesday morning as the United States Coast Guard tested the region’s response capabilities to a mass river rescue on the Columbia River. Overlooking the scene from the Fort Dalles Readiness Center was a host of emergency planners in a busy command center.
The full-scale rescue exercise was a test of Coast Guard response plans for a scenario in which an overwhelming number of victims are in the water, for example if a tour boat were to capsize.
“We’ve only got so many boats, so many aircraft,” explained Kristen Caldwell, contingency planning for force readiness chief for the Columbia Sector of the U.S. Coast Guard, which includes the Oregon Coast, the southern Washington Coast and much of the Columbia River system, including the Willamette River to Oregon City and the Snake River to Lewiston, Idaho. “We have to bring in outside resources.”
Those outside resources were evident throughout the day as rescue boats and helicopters retrieved red-suited “victims” from the river and response teams prepared to receive the injured.
“We are required to create plans for incidents that overwhelm Coast Guard resources,” explained Caldwell, who coordinates exercises for the Oregon coast, the southern Washington Coast and much of the Columbia River system, including the Willamette River to Oregon City and the Snake River to Lewiston, Idaho.
The mass-rescue plan devised by Caldwell is one of many, each taking on a different disaster scenario. planned for, which include earthquakes and other catastrophic events.
The full-scale exercise, which physically brought together multiple agencies in response, was held in The Dalles because the geography of the region can make communications challenging, Caldwell said.
“Communications is definitely an issue; it’s always an issue,” she said. Not all agencies have access to the same radio frequencies, and the geography in the region is challenging as well.
Speaking at the end of the exercise from the command post established at The Fort Dalles Readiness Center, she said specifics of the revised draft plan would be updated following the exercise. “Now we know what frequencies we can use.”
State and Federal agencies participating included the Coast Guard and Coast Guard auxiliary, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon State Police, Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Emergency Management. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Enforcement also participated.
County resources included Wasco County emergency operations, Wasco County Sheriff, Amateur Radio Service and Search and Rescue Team, Hood River County Emergency Management, Hood River Sheriff and Klickitat County Emergency Operations.
Also participating were Portland Fire and Emergency Operations Center; Hood River Fire; The River Safety Task Force; The Dalles Police Department; Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue; Mid-Columbia Medical Center; Clark County Fire and Rescue and Clark County Sheriff.
Caldwell said the test of the response plan went well, and information gathered will now allow her to revise the plan and make adjustments as needed. The plan will be finalized and adopted in about six months, she said.