A bomb threat aboard a B.C. Ferries vessel provided the Regional District of Nanaimo a real-life scenario in emergency preparedness.
A call came in to B.C. Ferries at 3 p.m. Saturday claiming a bomb was aboard the M.V. Queen of Coquitlam, scheduled to leave Departure Bay terminal at 3:10 p.m. for Horseshoe Bay.
The ship and terminal were evacuated and Nanaimo RCMP requested the more than 500 passengers be taken to an emergency reception centre set up at Beban Park.
The RDN received a call from police shortly before 3:30 p.m. for buses to shuttle passengers and an emergency plan was put into action.
“We have a policy in place for use of buses in emergencies and we started calling drivers in, letting them know it is an emergency situation and we need them to come in a soon as possible,” said Daniel Pearce, RDN manager of transit operations. “We had three buses there by 4 o’clock, another six in about a half hour and cleared the terminal just after 5 p.m.”
Pearce said for the short notice, he thought passenger transport went well.
“The drivers responded very quickly, and the dispatcher provided clear communication so everyone knew what they were doing,” he said. “One of the struggles we did have was some passengers had animals with them and some had children.
“Some didn’t want their children with the animals, some animals didn’t want to be with other animals … so we tried to provide a comfort zone.”
No bomb was discovered, RCMP cleared the vessel around 6:30 p.m. and passengers were back at the terminal by 7 p.m. for an 8:15 p.m. departure.
Jani Drew, RDN emergency coordinator, said co-operation between local levels of government paid off during the incident.
“One of the most important things we have in place is the emergency management agreement between the RDN, municipalities and First Nations,” she said. “It lays out how we are going to share resources, how we share command and jointly manage public information. It’s a road map of how we are going to work together.”
RDN emergency procedures and staff training made a difference as well.
“It was outstanding to be able to pull nine buses out, have the first ones down there in less than a half hour and have no impact on our regular service,” she said. “The drivers take specific training and understand what emergency social services is all about. They know evacuees will have certain sensitivities, and worked hard to keep them calm. It was an opportunity to practise the skills with fortunately no tragic outcome.”
Cost of the nine buses and staff for four hours is $3,954, but total numbers for the emergency response are still be calculated.
“We’re counting up the cost to the city, RDN and RCMP and anything above and beyond standard emergency response will be billed to B.C. Ferries,” said Karen Lindsay, Nanaimo Emergency program coordinator.