21 October, 2008

Airport disaster drill

Will be present at an upcoming Caribbean international airport’s disaster drill, soon. I have attended a few of these over the years and thoroughly enjoy them. One has the opportunity to observe national level emergency responders under pressure. An education in itself. Most actors happily answer questions posed.

Each drill involves a different, but likely scenario. A plane crash, an explosion, terrorist attack, hazardous material spill etc. The first responders arrive and go to work immediately, after the initial phase, and the area is secured, then secondary and tertiary responders do their part. All actors strive for seamless operation between agencies, but naturally, there are always a few snags.
Agencies involved are fire fighters, police, military, intelligence, medical, airports authorities, disaster preparedness specialists, safety specialists, hospitals, civil aviation authorities, ambulance services, helicopter services, relevant government ministries, communications, customs, immigration and sundry observers, volunteers (victims etc) and evaluators.

An incident management post is established, with each agency involved having at least two representatives; a supervisor and a scribe. They report to their respective superiors at the command centre, which is staffed with one higher-level supervisor/manager along with one scribe per agency. All agencies report their intel to the command centre. A single person, usually the airport operations manager, coordinates this centre with advice from the various agencies represented.

The drill lasts about 3-4 hours, but the preparations begin almost two months before. The airport involved is shut down for the duration of the drill. There is a post-drill evaluation, with lessons learned shared.
The result of the evaluation bears weight in the decision of the ACI as to which category status to issue to that particular airport. The category status has ramifications for insurance rates, airlines that will/will not land there etc.

- Trini Funshooter

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