Region’s first responders conduct search-and-rescue training

Coast Guard

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Nearly 30 agencies from across the region are training this week to practice search and rescue efforts on the water.

The 15th annual Steven Todd Dooley Search and Rescue Forum is hosted by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Virginia and the Port of Virginia.

It’s an opportunity for first responders to work together and learn about strategies, technology, and more that will be useful for water emergencies.

“It’s grown,” said Bill Burket, who is the port’s senior director of maritime incident response and business continuity. “Our numbers are up there. Our numbers have pulled back from COVID — 100 participants, 22 boats, 30 agencies.”

Burket says bringing the teams together helps them network.

“As our young men and women transfer out or join the forces, they need to train. It’s been sustaining those new folks,” he said.

The last year has been a busy one on the waterways. Burket says COVID-19 has made more people get out and about. The port has also recently seen an increase in traffic.

One of the issues they’re running into, according to Burket, are abandoned vessels set adrift.

“What we’re trying to educate the boat teams on is how to handle that. It’s not an easy fix,” he said.

This causes time and resources to be spent. Capt. Samson Stevens, who is the sector commander, for the USCG Sector Virginia, says they’ve also had a busy year responding due to more people on the water recreationally.

“Please label those [watercraft] with a phone number and name,” he said. “When they [are] up in the channel or bay and there’s no known ID, we put a lot of effort into seeing if someone has been ejected from the boat or if it’s just lost.”

Stevens says a lot of their responses are also due to unprepared boaters. He recommends having a float plan, charged phones, radios, and other plans in place in case emergencies happen.

On Thursday, the forum included a search and rescue exercise conducted by the Coast Guard to display how they would respond.

Stevens says they have 500 active and reserve duty members in the area and are able to respond within 30 minutes of major navigable waterways, estuaries, and more.

They work with Air Station Elizabeth City but when weather or other circumstances prevent them from assisting, they have to rely on regional first responders.

That’s why it’s important for them to bring the teams together, according to Stevens.

“We all pull on the same line and all have the same interests at heart to make the Hampton Roads region the best it can be, the safest it can be, the prosperous it can be,” he said.

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