Virginia stands ready following 2015 Search and Rescue Forum

First responders and support staff representing 31 federal, state and local agencies from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina converge in Hampton, Va., March 3, 2015 , for an annual search and rescue forum. Hosted by the Port of Virginia and the U.S. Coast Guard, the forum spanned five days and included joint training both in the classroom and on the water. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton)

First responders and support staff representing 31 federal, state and local agencies from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina converge in Hampton, Va., March 3, 2015 , for an annual search and rescue forum. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton)

It’s the first week in March 2015. Snow and ice are still on the ground and the majority of Hampton Roads residents were staying indoors to keep warm and dry. That, however, was not the case for more than 200 first responders and support staff from 31 federal, state, and local agencies covering three states, who converged on Hampton, Virginia, for the 2015 Search and Rescue Forum.

Hosted by the Port of Virginia and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Search and Rescue Forum spanned five days and included joint training both in the classroom and on the water. With an emphasis throughout the week on interoperability, training included everything from the first contact in a dispatch center to nighttime search patterns and cold-water survival.

As the week began, crews, whose experience ranged from novices to lifelong mariners, arrived not only ready to learn and develop their personal skills but to take information from this valuable opportunity back to share with their departments. When asked what he was most looking forward to, Lt. James Green, a 15-year veteran of the Chesapeake Fire Department and first-year participant of the forum, said, “how to coordinate with other agencies and to use a fire boat for search and rescue.”

Another first-time participant in the forum, Lt. Alfred Chandler, a 15-year veteran of the Suffolk Police Department, stated he looked forward to real life training for the team.

More than just an opportunity to hone in on search and rescue capabilities, the week’s training incorporated maritime law enforcement as well. Law enforcement officers attending the forum had training tailored to their tasks, from boarding and searching to vendors demonstrating equipment that assists in detecting drugs and radioactive materials.

Boat crews with first responders and support staff representing 31 federal, state and local agencies from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina prepare to participate in a towing drill in Hampton, Va., March 4, 2015, during an annual search and rescue forum. Hosted by the Port of Virginia and the U.S. Coast Guard, the forum spanned five days and included joint training both in the classroom and on the water. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton)

Boat crews with first responders and support staff representing 31 federal, state and local agencies from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina prepare to participate in a towing drill in Hampton, Va., March 4, 2015 (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton)

Coast Guard Capt. Rick Wester, deputy sector commander for Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, said, “A strong interagency approach is required to meet the challenges ahead.” Because of these challenges, the forum was designed to collaborate with a diverse base of personnel, platforms and equipment to complete a variety of missions.

Rear Adm. Stephen Metruck, commander of the Coast Guard’s Fifth District, said, “Following the completion of the Search and Rescue Forum, first responders in the Port of Virginia and the surrounding region will be better prepared to collaboratively conduct search and rescue, pollution response and law enforcement operations.”

No matter which one of the three facets he mentioned, the focus was on interagency cooperation and using common language for effective communication. Emergency dispatchers participated in the training, as they often serve as the only communication link between distressed callers and public safety officials.

Collaborative training provides many benefits, including identifying challenges, building professional working relationships and learning best practices from everyone involved.

Bryan Miers, a participant from the Henrico County Fire Department, cited Richmond’s geographic distance from the rest of the port. “We wouldn’t know each other’s capabilities without this training,” he said.

Industrialist Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; and working together is success.” Nothing could summarize the 2015 Search and Rescue Forum more accurately. For one week, men and women from all branches of public safety and the maritime industry came together, endured and worked to make the Port of Virginia and Mid-Atlantic region a safer place.

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