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Passenger Vessel Safety Program

Mass Rescue Operations

Coast Guard Headquarters Office of Search and Rescue - Mass Rescue Operations

A mass rescue operation (MRO) is one that involves the need for immediate assistance to large numbers of persons in distress such that capabilities normally available to search and rescue (SAR) authorities are inadequate.

Fortunately, MROs are relatively rare compared to normal SAR operations involving smaller numbers of survivors. Major incidents leading to the need for MROs have not been entirely infrequent on a world-wide basis and they can occur anywhere at any time. The nature of such operations may be poorly understood due to their regional infrequency and the limited chance to gain experience . This makes the need for plans, exercises (to test plans) and an effective management system (e.g. as the incident command system) critical. Proficiency at SAR response operations exists, and MRO or large scale SAR exercises helps bridge gaps in MRO training and preparedness.

Flooding, earthquakes, terrorism, casualties in the offshore oil industry, accidents involving releases of hazardous materials and major aircraft or ship incidents are examples of large magnitude incidents requiring vast resources to mitigate. Within an incident the competition for limited response resources will exist, particularly in the initial stages.

The sequence of priority in major multi-mission incidents must be lifesaving first, generally followed by environmental protection, and then protection of property. The allocation of resources is a critical function of a pre-establish emergency management system.

Moral and legal obligations, as well as public and political expectations, drive the need to be prepared to carry out MROs safely and effectively.  While the types of potential MRO scenarios, as well as the organizations, emergency response structures and circumstances vary from place to place, there are certain general principles, common actions and examples that can be followed.

For more information on how to plan for MRO Operations contact your Passenger Vessel Safety Specialist and explore the information available on this website.

Coast Guard Mass Rescue Operation (MRO) Program Instruction

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Last Modified 1/12/2016