Quickening the safety response

The call went out over harbor patrol emergency airwaves at 10:12 a.m. Thursday.

There was a boat accident in Newport Harbor and everyone was in the water. Nothing else, no details on how many people were injured or dead, and no idea of where to go.

It’s the type of call police, lifeguards and the Orange County Sheriff Harbor Patrol know they could get if there was a mass-casualty incident they need to be ready for.

Luckily, the call Thursday was only part of a drill between the harbor patrol and Newport Beach firefighters and lifeguards.

“What if you had the Catalina Flyer go down?” said Harbor Master Lt. Mark Long, as two patrol boats headed out to recover the “victims.”

In Thursday’s scenario, two boats collided thanks to a drunk boater. One vessel had three passengers and the other seven. More than 60 people participated in the one-hour scenario. Some were victims who floated in the water with painted on blood, bruises and dislocated shoulders. Everyone else played their part as lifeguards, harbor patrol and firefighters.

To keep it as real as possible, responders were given few details about the situation they were going to face and urged not to listen to other radio frequencies as the situation unfolded.

Boat by boat, broken and bloodied victims were dropped off at the harbor patrol dock and evaluated. Some needed urgent care and were put into ambulances and driven to the end of the parking lot to simulate a hospital trip.

Others were put on backboards and set aside while the more seriously injured were taken care of.

Everyone involved said the drill went well, and the victims were rescued quickly.

Had the incident been more serious, such as a disaster with the Catalina Flyer, which takes hundreds to Catalina Island, there are areas for improvement, incident commanders said.

“We have to make sure we don’t duplicate efforts,” said Newport Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Ralph Restadius.

He said communication could have improved had there been a central area for all agency commanders to coordinate their efforts.

In a larger incident there would also have to be a commander on the water to work with the lifeguard and harbor patrol boats, Long said.

Despite the amount of people involved, there was little to no confusion about who should do what, responders said.

“The best thing it did was get us comfortable working with one another, overcoming those barriers,” Long said. “If you can’t talk to each other you get [a] scatter effect.”


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