Cruise ship emergency plan ready for test

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

Juneau is prepared for any disaster related to cruise ships, whether fire, collision or terrorist attack, officials say.

The Assembly recently adopted a cruise ship shore-side response plan. It adds to the city's various emergency plans ranging from avalanches to airport crashes. The city is working on response plans for sheltering, hazardous materials emergencies, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Michael Patterson, city disaster plan manager, said Juneau needs a plan to specifically handle cruise ships because the city is a popular destination.

During tourist season between early May and late September, up to five cruise ships visit Juneau every day. Annually, Juneau hosts more than 800,000 cruise ship visitors, along with another 200,000 crew members.

"Depending on the location of the accident, Juneau might be chosen as a destination to evacuate cruise ship passengers and crew," Patterson said. "We as a community need to be ready to receive them, shelter them and transport them."

The city's Local Emergency Planning Committee has worked on the plan for a year.

The plan details the responsibilities of all the federal, state and nonprofit agencies might involve.

The U.S. Coast Guard will do search and rescue. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection will clear all passengers and crew members. The FBI will investigate all terrorist acts and threats. The city will assist in transporting, sheltering and treating evacuees.

A joint information center will be established. All the parties involved in the response will cooperate and coordinate communications to ensure accurate and consistent information to the media, families and the public.

Because families and friends will overload Juneau's communications systems to find their loved ones, cruise lines will develop an 800 phone number to handle passenger status inquires. The city will also mobilize residents who can speak foreign languages to assist communications with passengers and crew.

The designated reception areas for evacuees include Centennial Hall, Juneau-Douglas High School and Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. The reception areas should provide temporary shelter, food service and medical assistance.

Mark Miles, chairman of the city Local Emergency Planning Committee, said an exercise will be necessary to fine-tune the plan.

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