Striving to keep ferries safe

Multi-agency drill puts into practice how agencies react to terrorist threat



SEATTLE — If terrorists were to seize a Washington state ferry, police agencies are prepared to board the vessel on Puget Sound with SWAT teams roping down from helicopters and jumping aboard from moving Coast Guard boats.

They trained for that scenario Monday, although 25 mph winds forced them to cancel the helicopter descent. But officers boarded the ferry Salish in seasickness-inducing swells that washed over the smaller police boats, King County sheriff’s Sgt. Katie Larson said.

“It’s dangerous,” Larson said. “We’ve got to practice in the good and the bad weather, and at some point you have to weigh the risks,” she said about canceling the helicopter drop.

The all-day training exercise, six months in the planning, involved up to 100 people from the Coast Guard, Washington State Patrol, King County sheriff’s office and Seattle police in the waters between Vashon Island and Everett.

Two helicopters circled the ferry for a time as it was overtaken by two smaller Coast Guard boats, a sheriff’s boat and police boats from Seattle and Bainbridge Island.

Despite the impressive show of force, the most important part of the drill is the cooperation and communication among agencies, Coast Guard spokesman Robert Lanier said.

“So we’re all working on the same page if something were to happen,” he said.