A slew of first responders, fire trucks and passengers with faux scrapes and bloody gashes were all part of last Wednesday’s FAA Triennial Emergency Exercise at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, where a simulated plane crash took place for emergency preparedness training and evaluation purposes.
The Federal Aviation Administration required a drill which included the participation of numerous public safety and emergency response agencies and an elaborate simulation with over 40 volunteers who posed as crash victims. Agencies involved in the drill included Rincon Valley Fire, Windsor Fire, Healdsburg Fire, Forestville Fire, Santa Rosa Fire, Cal Fire, the Red Cross, Sonoma County Fire and Emergency Services, Sonoma Life Support, Bells Ambulance, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, Coastal Valley EMS, REDCOME, Reach and an Oakland task force K-9 team.
The county airport wanted to get as much of the community involved in the exercise as possible to drive home the importance of being prepared in the event of an emergency, according to Assistant Airport Manager, Omar Daaboul.
“We had volunteers from the Red Cross and the local high school and college and they were very happy to be a part of it. We tried to include the community as much as possible. We had a K-9 unit and local hospitals to transport victims to the hospital, so it has been a very coordinated effort over the last two months,” Daaboul said.
The realistic simulation was played out with the scenario of a commercial service aircraft with landing gear problems resulting in mass casualties and injuries.
“(For the scenario) it was an aircraft crash onto the runway and we used a Q400, one of our most used aircrafts at the airport with 76 seats on board. The emergency responders weren’t given any in
structions but that it would be a mass casualty incident,” Daaboul explained.
To provide a more visceral effect, Red Cross make- up artists applied fake blood, cuts and bruises to the “victims,” who were also given a tag marking them as dead or injured. First responders rushed to the scene with stretchers, body bags and medical supplies, attending to and loading victims into the backs of ambulances. The drill even included the use of stress relief dogs. Fire -fighting equipment and sirens were also used to make the exercise even more realistic. Prior to the start of the simulation, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department sent out a Nixle alert, notifying the public of the drill and that the smoke and excessive amount of emergency response vehicles were just part of the drill.
The exercise didn’t only serve as a training session for public safety, but it also served as an appraisal of the airport’s capability in dealing with a large-scale emergency, according to a Sonoma County Airport press release.
“This exercise is a valuable way for agencies to coordinate efforts, practice response and recovery and train together in a likely emergency… and is intended to evaluate the operational capability of the airport emergency management system in a real life environment,” the press release stipulates.
In the event of a real emergency the pilot would report the emergency and the message would be relayed to STS’s air traffic control center, which would then dispatch the airport’s trained emergency personnel as well as other local first responders.
“We have trained personnel at the airport who are trained for this and we would also have other units from Rincon Valley Fire attend,” Daaboul said.
Daaboul says since he has been assistant manager he doesn’t believe there have been any crashes at Charles Schulz airport.
However, other larger airports and airlines have recently experienced deadly airplane emergencies. On Tuesday, April 17, a Southwest flight from New York to Dallas had to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after the Boeing 737-700 lost an engine. Shrapnel from the engine slammed into one of the plane’s windows, almost sucking out a passenger who later died from her injuries. Several other passengers were badly injured and first responders were on scene to transport passengers to the hospital. Following the fatal accident, Southwest announced the start of a voluntary inspection program, canceling about 40 flights each day since the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the engine malfunction.
Daaboul said safety and emergency preparedness is always the most important priority and in addition to the triennial emergency drill, the FAA frequently inspects the airport to make sure crews are keeping up with safety standards.
“We have an FAA inspection that is carried out to make sure that we are in compliance and that we’ve had all our proper trainings and they are here for a few days and there are many tight regulations to makes sure we are safe. There are a lot of boxes that need to be checked.,” Daaboul said.