Preparing for an active shooter on board

Recently, the Area Maritime Security Committee (AMSC) in Cincinnati held an active shooter drill on one of my boats, the Belle of Cincinnati. The drill was designed to bring law enforcement and SWAT teams from adjoining municipalities together to take part in a simulated active shooter scenario on an underway vessel.

The AMSC planned the exercise with an eye toward creating a realistic scenario. A soundtrack, complete with the sounds of gunshots and screaming passengers, played throughout the day. Tactical teams wore camouflaged fatigues, flak jackets and helmets, and carried weapons of every caliber.

The goal of the active shooter drill is to learn how to respond to an emergency on a vessel as opposed to a building or other landside venue.

Understandably, there are some unique challenges associated with vessels.

One major issue was the dramatic difference in freeboard between the Belle of Cincinnati and the small vessels that carried the boarding teams. The Belle, at its shortest reading, has only 4′ of freeboard, with 5’6″ at its highest point. Even with this difference the tactical teams were able to efficiently board our vessel without incident.

A building may have multiple exits, but a vessel offers far fewer options. We learned that passengers on board a vessel are inclined to jump overboard in such an emergency. As a result, we added a mass rescue scenario to the drill by placing dummies in the water to be recovered.

The other important part of the drill was to test my company’s emergency response capabilities. It can be quite intimidating for crewmembers as tactical teams work to identify and mitigate any existing threat, yet our crew kept cool and did their jobs according to plan.

This year, Hy-Line Cruises of Hyannis, Mass., an operator of high-speed ferries, participated in a successful active shooter exercise that involved multiple law enforcement jurisdictions in their area. The Passenger Vessel Association plans to feature sessions about active shooter security measures at its annual convention in February.

In light of the increase in gun violence in the U.S., conducting active shooter drills which involve local law enforcement assets is extremely important. I hope that we will never have to respond to an active shooter situation, but we are prepared should the unthinkable ever occur.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.

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