Mass rescue course attracts top emergency planners

Training for mass rescues.jpg. Caption: Training exercise for mass rescue operations Credit: IMRF

The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) held its first three-day maritime mass rescue operations course at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June. It attracted 40 senior personnel with emergency planning responsibilities from a total of 18 countries.

Bruce Reid, the IMRF's chief executive, said, "This course has brought senior emergency planners together to discuss common challenges and highlight important issues relating to maritime mass rescue operations. Working together, we can share our experiences and ideas. While we cannot stop accidents occurring, we do have the capacity, by working with search and rescue [SAR] services around the world, to improve preparedness and save more lives."

IMRF said mass rescue operations were, by international definition, beyond normal SAR capability. That is to say there are more people in distress than there are SAR units available to save them. The IMRF said how many people needed to be saved would depend on the circumstances such as location, weather, sea conditions, and the availability of rescue craft locally.

It added that emergency response organisations “need to 'be prepared for the unprepared' – ready to respond to emergencies of a scale they are not resourced for, which may be rare, but are extremely challenging.”

The aim of the course was to study in depth the generic issues identified by the IMRF's mass rescue operations project, enabling participants to develop subject-matter expertise. IMRF said focusing on the issues enabled the review and development of detailed plans to fill the capability gap different organisations might have.

The participants worked in breakout sessions to discuss the issues, coming together again to present their results. There was also a lively tabletop exercise, delivered by specialists from the United States Coast Guard, which allowed some of the mass rescue challenges to be demonstrated in an example scenario, based on a passenger ferry fire.

The IMRF's mass rescue operations project manager, David Jardine-Smith, said, "The participants are well aware that they or their organisations may have to conduct a mass rescue operation one day, and they are determined to be as ready as they can. They know it's not 'if' but 'when'.”

Funding from the TK Foundation and Trinity House allowed scholarship places to be offered to delegates from developing countries. The course was also supported by the Swedish Sea Rescue Society, the Swedish Maritime Administration, and Orolia McMurdo.

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