The Omaha Airport Authority (OAA) conducted its triennial full-scale emergency exercise on Saturday. The event simulated an airline Boeing 737 departure accident at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield with 74 passengers on board.
For this year’s event, the exercise included an aircraft fire trainer, nearly 150 volunteers and 17 different agencies. Some volunteers acted as the passengers’ family and friends in the terminal while most were injured or deceased passengers near the crash site, testing the reactiveness of the airport’s first responders.
To add to the realism of the scenario, victims spent time with makeup artists who added seemingly-real cuts and bruises to their bodies, which first responders would undoubtedly see in the unlikely event that a scenario such as this becomes real. Volunteers were also assigned a role and wore tags that stated their age and symptoms. First responders used these tags to determine what kind of treatment would be needed.
At 9 a.m., the call came out that an aircraft crashed. At that time, the aircraft trainer, filled with propane and used to allow fire extinguishment training, began to smoke. A few minutes later, the trainer was engulfed in flames, mimicking the fire that would result due to the large amount of fuel that any given aircraft carries on every flight.
The Omaha Airport Authority Fire Department arrived in force and began to immediately douse the burning trainer. In order, the Omaha Fire Department arrived and began setting up shop to help combat the inferno and treating the injured. The firefighters connected their hoses to a nearby fire hydrant and began assisting in spraying the mock fuselage.
While all of this was taking place, the OAA fire chief and police department arrived with local airline personnel to set up a mobile command. With the blaze out, the fire crews entered the trainer and extracted some manikins, acting as passengers, onboard the singed aircraft.
The next process in the simulation was to get the victims set in place. Some volunteers laid on the ground unmoving, simulating the deceased, while others wondered around showing signs of confusion and head trauma. Fire crews and EMTs began searching the victims and completing quick assessments to determine who needs immediate treatment.
Those needing immediate treatment were either worked on site or were placed into ambulances for transport. Victims placed in ambulances were then taken to nearby hospitals where the simulation continued. The exercise even flew in a LifeNet helicopter to transport a victim in dire need of care.
The exercise even included the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s simulation in a Motion Nebraska truck. The truck is set up like an operating room in one half, and an ambulance in the back half and equipped with a speech and motion-capable manikin. The manikin has moving eyes, a pulse and active blood pressure. The practice patient even has a fetus inside the body for medics to practice on pregnant crash victims.
While victims and the deceased were being treated, other agencies focused on getting to the bottom of why the crash occurred. In a field near the mock crash site, a debris field was set up for the area police to perform forensic investigations.
The full-scale training took a year to plan and tested the response of Omaha area first responders, preparing them for a real mass casualty event at the airport. The exercise is mandatory per the Federal Aviation Administration for airports holding a Class I Airport Operating Certificate under Title 14 CFR Part 139, according to an OAA press release.
While the FAA only requires a full-scale exercise take place triennially, the OAA and all participating agencies conduct a tabletop exercise where the various agencies talk through the response to a specific incident.