On Thursday, September 7th, 2017, at 9:00pm, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) officials will be joined by a small army of disaster preparedness professionals, first responders, and volunteers to test their collective readiness for a large-scale emergency at the region’s largest international airport. Federal law requires that airports conduct a full-scale exercise every three years, involving the support and participation of all affected hospital systems and other first responders, to ensure proper coordination in the event of a disaster.
Better Prepared, Together
The goals of this week’s exercise include a thorough review of the roles and responsibilities of all agencies involved with emergency response. Hospitals, for example, test the utilization and effectiveness of critical communication tools during a mass casualty incident, via the Disaster Network and technology-enabled Patient Tracking (OHTrac), and conduct testing of medical surge plans in the event of mass casualties.
“This full-scale exercise enables all responders the opportunity to work together and collaborate on a mass casualty event,” says Dave Stoeckle, Battalion Chief of the CVG airport’s Fire Department – EMS Division.
“Multiple jurisdictions and disciplines come together every year to support the airport in this very large exercise, allowing us to fulfill our FAA requirements and ensuring the region is properly prepared to respond if needed.”
A Little Help from Our Friends
Despite all the planning and synchronization, however, airport officials and first responders can’t do it all alone. Volunteers provide another critical element to the practical application of emergency best practices. Dozens of volunteers have been recruited for the exercise to play “victims” of the disaster scenario, using “moulage” or makeup to simulate injuries and ensure an element of realism for the event.
Tonda Francis, VP of Regional Coordination and Clinical Initiatives at The Health Collaborative, has an instrumental role in coordinating the hospitals for the exercise and recognizes the difference made by volunteers. She remarked, “Volunteers are a crucial component of this type of exercise in terms of making it look and feel realistic. The presence of ‘actors’ contributes to the realism and urgency that would be faced during a real-world event. We are very thankful to the volunteers that give of their time to participate.” Participation from volunteers is vital for fulfillment of the Federal Aviation Administration requirements by which the CVG airport is mandated.
[The following is a description of the fictional scenario that will be used at the September 7 exercise – it is NOT an account of true events.]
An inbound aircraft with 80 passengers has crashed just short of the runway. The aircraft rests in a small creek about 1,100 feet off the runway, and a few dozen passengers need to be seen by medical professionals for injuries. Triage and treatment begin in and around the crash site and transport to area hospitals begins right away. Hospitals are immediately notified of the incident, and they quickly bring their emergency department capabilities to maximum capacity. Patients are routed utilizing a centralized patient distribution system to the hospitals that can care for victims most expediently. Multiple EMS units are in response under mutual aid, and the Cincinnati-area Red Cross responds to the airport’s family reception center, where they assist in reunification efforts along with hospital officials.
Implementing Lessons Learned
Following up on the preparedness exercise, the airport will utilize what are known as “after-action reports” and lessons learned from airline crashes throughout the world to reinforce its emergency planning and disseminate it to stakeholders region-wide. The 2013 Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco, for example, is a fairly recent example that has provided insight into best practices for future disaster-readiness planning.
This week’s exercise, and the critical response planning resulting from it, are good reminders of the importance of having thorough emergency plans in place, communicating and practicing them effectively, and recognizing that no single individual or organization can address it alone – coordination and cooperation from the surrounding community are keys to minimizing the consequences of a large-scale disaster.