The Coast Guard and local agencies simulated responding to a gunman on an underway tour boat in Ohio Monday – the latest drill as the passenger vessel industry thinks about the risk of gun violence.
The 157’ sternwheeler Valley Gem, homeported at Marietta, Ohio, was the scene of the ‘active shooter’ exercise. It involved nearly 40 participants including members of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Huntington based at Barboursville, W.V., officers with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Washington County Sheriff’s Department officers and the Marietta Fire Department.
Responders took turns boarding the sternwheeler while underway, searching for shooters and aiding and evacuating victims in five scenarios, Coast Guard officials said.
“Blending responders from the different agencies in the port helps ensure cohesiveness and solidarity in a real-world scenario,” said Cmdr. Paul Mangini, commanding officer of MSU Huntington, in a statement describing the exercise.
“Incorporating a highly visible fixture like the Valley Gem sends a message that our port relationships extend well beyond governmental partnerships and rely heavily on our industry members as well, said Mangini.
Named for a 1800s packet boat, the Valley Gem carries passengers on the Muskingum and Ohio rivers, with public tours, private charters, dinner cruises and special events. The company has been operated by the Sands family of Marietta since 1973 and the present-day Valley Gem was built in 1989.
“The Valley Gem is unique in this area in both the volume of passengers we take out as well as the range of tours we offer,” said Captain Heather Sands, owner and operator of the Valley Gem. “Time has changed some things and the importance of preparedness in today’s world is something even paddle wheel captains have to contend with.”
In January 2016 the Passenger Vessel Association hosted a first-ever active shooter drill as part of its annual convention. There had been heightened security measures for the industry since the 2001 terrorist attacks, but mass shootings at public locations in recent years raised new concern.
“This is a logical topic, given the state of the world,” said John Groundwater, executive director of PVA, in 2016. “In light of what’s been going on, our operators have a heightened sense of awareness. They’ve been doing more screening of passengers, but that’s part and parcel of the security plans.”
At PVA’s 2019 conference in New Orleans, members heard how Cross Sound Ferry Services, New London, Conn., is training its crew members to protect their passengers and themselves in the event of an attack underway.
“This is another emergency we have to prepare for,” Christopher J. Anglin, Cross Sound’s facilities operations manager and security officer said in a presentation. “It’s just part of our training program now.”
“Full-scale exercises like this are becoming more and more commonplace throughout the country as port communities everywhere prepare for and practice for real world scenarios,” said Mangini.