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MEMA Home > Programs> Communication> News > Hancock County Charts Course for Cruise Ship Safety

Hancock County Charts Course for Cruise Ship Safety


March 24, 2008


In a single day, the population of Mount Desert Island and the Port of Bar Harbor can grow by thousands -- not just by tourists arriving by motor vehicles, but because of those visiting on-board cruise ships. “We have a large number of cruise ships visiting the Port of Bar Harbor every year,” said Ralph Pinkham, Hancock County Emergency Management Director. “Just this year we are up to 106 scheduled visits,” he said. Those 106 ships could bring a collective 152,000 visitors to the harbor village and Acadia National Park.

The ships visiting and using the Port of Bar Harbor range in size from Whale Watching cruises that typically carry approximately 200 people, to the world’s largest cruise ships, including the Queen Mary 2, which accommodates 2,500 passengers and over 1,000 crew members. Then, if you consider Bay Ferries high speed ferry “The Cat” with a capacity of 900 souls and 250 vehicles making several arrivals at the Port, from Nova Scotia, Canada, every week during the summer and fall, the potential for a mass casualty situation exists.

When an emergency or disaster occurs it is always the responsibility of local first responders to initially deal with the situation, but emergency planners know from past exercises and real life events that no agency at any level of government is robust enough to successfully respond to a large scale event by itself. With this knowledge, Hancock County’s Emergency Planners have recognized the importance of being able to get needed resources onto Mount Desert Island during an emergency, as well as evacuating folks from the Island, which is connected to the mainland by just a single two-lane bridge.

With that concern in mind, the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, Maine Emergency Management Agency, Maine Department of Transportation, and representatives from municipal law enforcement and fire departments from Hancock and Penobscot Counties developed an Emergency Traffic Management Plan for the 45 mile stretch of road referred to as the route 1-A/3 corridor that runs from Interstate 395 in Brewer to Mount Desert Island. “The plan identifies alternate routes around potential bottlenecks, agency responsibilities, needed resources, such as signage, and generally how we would efficiently move traffic during an emergency,” Pinkham said.

Planning for the cruise ship season does not end there. “Annually, prior to the tourist season in and around Frenchman Bay, we have a meeting of all the stakeholders,” Pinkham said. These parties include personnel from the fire service, law enforcement, local harbormasters, municipal officials, USCG, Acadia National Park, State Police, FBI, the Army National Guard’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, the HAZMAT/WMD Regional Response Team, and others. “We try to get everyone to these meetings that might play a role in any kind of incident involving a cruise ship,” Pinkham said. This year the county has partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard, and will combine their meeting with the Coast Guard’s Area Maritime Security Meeting. “The agenda for these meetings typically include safety and security issues, but perhaps most importantly is an opportunity for the stakeholders to recognize each other and make sure we have up to date contact information for our partners,” Pinkham said.

With increasing cruise ship traffic, from just a few visiting in the late 1980s to more than 100 this year, the town has sought to improve its security and infrastructure.

“We recognize that over the years throughout our planning that we lacked a lot of resources that would be necessary in the event of an emergency,” said Bar Harbor Police Chief Nate Young. “We recognize that we need some upgrades and what we lacked is the funding to get started on that,” he said.

To that end, the town of Bar Harbor has applied for a Department of Homeland Security Port Security grant to build a new harbor surveillance facility, purchase an inflatable emergency rescue boat and other projects. Town officials hope to be selected for the grant later this year.

Emergency preparedness does not stop at planning. To test the County, State, and Federal response to a marine mass casualty event happening in or around Frenchman Bay, the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency has organized and facilitated tabletop and full scale exercises. “We did one three years ago with the first visit of the Queen Mary 2,” Pinkham said. “We did the exercise on the very day the ship arrived just to make sure that we had the capabilities to respond with all of our resources.”

“The exercises have paid off,” Pinkham said. “Three years ago a private sail boat overturned in Somes Sound, requiring local ambulance services to recover and transport 7 or 8 injured souls to the Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor for treatment. That mission was a success, but a response and recovery involving many more cold, wet, and injured people would bring us to our knees without a well thought out plan using off island resources.”

“This is an on-going process,” Pinkham said. “We work on this all the time to make sure our citizens and visitors remain safe. It is amazing how efficient we are and what can be accomplished when agencies from all levels of government and the private sector plan and work in concert,” he said.

—Derek Mitchell



Hancock County EMA


Last update: 07/20/10