A combination of federal, state, and local agencies will conduct an emergency drill in Charleston Harbor on Wednesday, June 28, 2023.
The drill will simulate a mass casualty event involving a cruise ship, as if the ship were struck by another vessel in the harbor. Emergency operations will occur in the water as well as at the port and in the downtown area.
The public is advised that this is a drill only and that the enhanced emergency presence in the area is part of the planned operation.
Simulated Cruise Ship Drill Planned
Multiple agencies will participate in an emergency drill and mass casualty simulation in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on Wednesday, June 28. The scenario is as if a cruise ship were to be struck by a supply vessel in the harbor and it would be necessary to evacuate approximately 100 people from the vessel. Simultaneously, “victims” will be portrayed in the water to further test emergency procedures and responses.
There are no cruise ships scheduled for Port of Charleston on Wednesday, though Carnival Sunshine is currently homeported from the city, and TUI Cruises’ Marella Discovery visits the port regularly.
The purpose of the drill is to “test mass casualty and mass rescue response efforts and promote effective coordination and communication between response agencies during a large-scale maritime emergency,” according to the United States Coast Guard.
This type of drill, which is similar to earthquake and hurricane drills that have been arranged in the past, is designed to test and validate existing emergency response protocols and expose any potential gaps in contingency plans in order to refine response plans for more efficiency and effectiveness.
Overall, more than 120 people will be participating in the drill, which will be conducted in public areas for greater realism and will include roleplaying of injuries and triage situations.
The drill is expected to start at roughly 9 a.m., and the exercises will end at approximately noon in the field and at 3 p.m. at the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center.
“The public should be aware that it is not an emergency situation,” Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Dickinson said to local news outlets. Most of the activity will take place in Charleston Harbor, between Shutes Folly and South Channel.
Eerie Similarities to Miami Incident
While this drill has undoubtedly been planned for some time, it bears an eerie resemblance to the incident at PortMiami on Sunday, June 25, when a 30-foot boat collided with a ferry in the Government Cut channel.
That real-life incident resulted in one fatality, closed the channel for nearly 12 hours, and stranded 15,000 passengers on three large cruise ships just outside PortMiami until the wreckage was cleared, the port reopened, and the ships could proceed to docking.
Emergency crews in Miami responded impeccably to the accident scene, rescuing one individual and ensuring the area was safe from debris or environmental contamination before the cruise ships entered the channel. Similarly, crew members onboard the ships as well as port staff went above and beyond to keep guests on the ships as well as those waiting for embarkation informed of the situation.
Cruise Ship Drills
While it can be unnerving to see a real-scale safety drill conducted mimicking a potential disaster, such drills are necessary to train crews, refine procedures, and ensure the safest, most effective response to any emergency situation.
Cruise ship crew members frequently perform safety drills and simulations, testing equipment and ensuring everyone is fully trained and ready to respond in the event of any incident, whether it is an overboard alert, onboard fire, severe storm, or other dangerous event.
Similarly, every cruise traveler must participate in the ship’s emergency muster drill prior to setting sail. These drills cover how to properly wear a life vest, what the ship’s emergency alert sounds like, where to go in the event of an emergency, what number to call to report an emergency, and more.