Anchorage International Airport Drills For Disaster
Contributing editor Koehler has more than 30 years’ experience in radio, telephony and computer electronics. He has been teaching part-time at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK, for the last four years. He is also a certified disaster recovery planner.
Recently the Anchorage International Airport (AIA) conducted its tri-annual, FAA-mandated, mass-casualty exercise. James Michangelo, operations officer for the airport, was the key player in setting up and running this successful exercise. Michangelo, who has worked on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations team, ensured realism and depth in the exercise this year.
Players from the municipality of Anchorage and military fire departments participated. Area medical facilities were included to test response plans for their facilities. The local Amateur Radio community provided exercise communication, with some 40 hams present with their radio gear, including Amateur Position Reporting System (APRS) equipment that allowed exercise evaluators to track ambulance location and status.
AIA has been using VHF frequencies for ground operations, such as fire and safety. The VHF system meets their day-to-day needs, but in cerain situations, as pointed out by this drill, it can be difficult to communicate with the large emergency services management infrastructure in the nearby community. The municipality has a trunked 800MHz Motorola system, which has the features and performance to please emergency service providers. Meanwhile, the airport fire department is currently forced to carry two radio sets (VHF and 800MHz). A request for quotation (RFQ) will be issued shortly that will move the airport from its current VHF system to one compatible with the municipality’s 800MHz trunked system. This seamless communications system will enhance an already excellent response system for Anchorage’s citizens and visitors. AIA’s existing VHF frequencies were a legacy from the state of Alaska, which had been planning to construct a VHF trunking system and never completed the project. Now all agencies servicing the airport will be interoperable, and managers will only need to carry one “brick.”
The Anchorage community supports and participates in this type of training. Anchorage school children volunteered as “victims” for the disaster exercise, while the local Red Cross chapter transported food and water donated by the business community. The Alaskan Air Guard provided a C-130 aircraft for firefighters to simulate entry for casualty search and firefighting. The airport responded with its HAZMAT trailer system, disaster victim assistance trailer and the full range of firefighting equipment from the airport station. Local hospitals participated as well.
Anchorage, known as the “Air Crossroads” of North America, has an airport that handles 30% more air cargo flights than any other airport in the world. Flights across the North Pacific count on the emergency services in Anchorage should an incident occur.
In 1997, an Air China flight experienced an in-flight event that resulted in many passenger injuries. After the plane landed at AIA, victims were transported to area hospitals so efficiently that the local consulate sent letters of recognition to the Anchorage emergency services management team.
Mass-casualty exercises provide the kind of training and experience to permit this efficiency. A well-trained community communications infrastructure is one of the keys to a well-run emergency response.