active shooter training exercise washington state ferry

Vessel Safety, Security & Response to Hostile Actors

Captain Thomas E. BlissMaritime News, Vessel Security Officer 2 Comments

“Active Shooter” Multi -Agency Response Exercise on Washington Sate Ferry.

By Captain Thomas E. Bliss

Tuesday, May 23rd, I had the extreme privilege and pleasure to participate in a joint Active Shooter training exercise aboard the very new Washington State Ferry Chimacum, untrodden by passengers, still with that new boat smell.

Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound, Customs and Border Protection, Washington State Ferry, Washington State Patrol, King County Sheriff’s Office and Everett Police Department all participated in this exercise.

I was a roll player in this active shooter exercise. All I needed to do was suit up and show up, and be a warm body, and enjoy one of the most beautiful days we’ve had all year in the Pacific Northwest.

King County Sheriff’s Department SAFE Boat

With the USCG Osprey pacing alongside amid the picturesque backdrop of the snow capped majestic Olympic Mountains, sailing the blue Salish Sea, more commonly known as the “Puget Sound,” made this an idyllic day in every way. Despite knowing I was about to take part in an emergency drill, I was relaxed, and in my element, I felt as safe as I always do aboard our Washington State Ferries,” but once I reflected on the reason for the mission, complete with “bad actors”, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad.

I’m sad that we have to do these drills, but at the same time, I’m grateful that our safety and security leaders are taking such and active role in safeguarding their citizens to the best of their ability, and training for a response of such hostile acts of terror.

During Tuesday morning’s briefing, we spoke of the horrible attack in Manchester, England the night before. How girls as young as eight years old were murdered while enjoying a night of music, in a place that they called home, they felt safe; not so unlike us feeling safe enjoying a ferry ride across the Puget Sound.

Summer Tourist on a Washington State Ferry.

During our first scenario of the day, the bad guys were stalking passengers and crew trying to inflict as much damage as they could before first responders were able to board the vessel.  My first instinct was to find shelter and conceal myself.  I did find a spot behind trash cans, against a bulkhead. I could hear the shooter walking around, looking for victims. I was trying not to move a muscle, breathing quietly. I knew it was a drill, but I still felt the tension and stress, imagining what this would be like if the attack were real. It was so realistic in many ways and my senses were so heightened.  Not even Adderall can keep you more focused on survival than the moment you realize you’ve brought a trash can to a gun fight.

Unfortunately, this is the world we live in right now. And we Mariners must maintain vigilant watch during our duties aboard ship, and especially during this Pacific Northwest tourist season. There are people in this world that have shown us how much terror can be exacted upon us.

When was the last time you and your crew reviewed your Vessel Security Plan? Have you and your crew table-topped scenarios? What exactly would you do during an active shooter or suicide bombing?

If you are in the business of moving passengers, unfortunately these are things we need to think about and it doesn’t matter what station you hold, OS to Master, we need to be situationally aware at all times. Sure, there are trashcans to empty, heads to attend to, cars to load and unload, and a hundred other tasks, but don’t fall into routine, and don’t become complacent.

 Not even Adderall can keep you more focused on survival than the moment you realize you’ve brought a trash can to a gun fight.

To my Maritime Friends

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Are you looking at each passenger you pass by?
    • Or are you head down with the “Don’t ask me anything, I’ve got a plugged head to deal with look?
  • Do you notice behaviors of passengers?
  • Do you say something when you see a bag left unattended, or just have a bad feeling?
    • Listen to your inner voice
  • Are you engaging, with your passengers?
    • “Bad actors” hate to be engaged, and will show signs of discomfort when approached by crew members.
This exercise was the first of its kind so Im told.

All of the agencies that participated in this exercise were amazing!  Of course the United States Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound active duty and volunteer Auxiliary were Semper Paratus.  I could not tell if  Customs and Border Protection were there, but I’m told they were (remember I was hiding). The Washington State Patrol were looking sharp.  I was equally impressed with the King County Sheriff’s department, and The Seattle PD.

I feel safer knowing that we have such dedicated Local, State and Federal LEO’s who are so committed to safeguarding our community.  Their passion, and willingness to place themselves in harms way is admirable to say the least.  And to all of those who do this job, I thank you, and I’m sure your community thanks you as well.

In Closing

I have been riding the Washington State Ferries for over 40 years. The crews of the Washington State Ferries have been doing a stellar job, and I have no complaints at all. But this goes for all OTW transportation workers, we have got to step up our game, because there are people out there who are trying to hurt us, and they are going to look for the loosest ship to sink.

@wastatepatrol @SeattlePD @kingcosoPIO   #wastatepatrol #SeattlePD #kingcosoPIO

Comments 2

  1. Nice article Tom! Very unfortunate that we have to live with such fear. Thank you for your dedication to public safety.

  2. Thank you for the tour and your continued commitment to the mariner industry
    I’ll personally try and be more vigilant
    Great job Captain Bliss

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