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Mock Airport Disaster Will Put Volunteers To The Test Crash Scenario Helps Area Agencies Prepare For Real Emergencies

It’ll be no big deal. A Boeing 737 crashes at Spokane’s International Airport, killing more than 50 people.

It won’t lead the evening news, however. The crash victims are all volunteers, and the only smoke rising from the runway will be from paper coffee cups, not burning fuel.

Running from 8 to 11 a.m. today, about 120 volunteers from 50 agencies will stage a mock airline disaster, required every three years by the federal government.

Three years ago, drill organizers decided to push the envelope - staging a rescue and removal of more than 300 injured passengers from a DC-10 forced to land in Spokane.

That event tested the ability of handling a large number of victims at several area hospitals.

This year, the scaled-down exercise will use the scenario of a jet breaking apart while landing at the airport.

Today’s drill will help evaluate how response teams communicate with each other during a sudden crisis, said Airport Fire Chief Gary Rennick.

About 25 fire trucks, ambulances and response teams will rush to the airport. Four helicopters will arrive to ferry victims needing immediate medical care to hospitals.

Dozens of law enforcement officers will control phantom crowds or curious on-lookers.

Most people passing through the airport will see little evidence of the drill, however, said spokesman Todd Woodard.

“This will all be taking place at the north end of Runway 21, and all our planes are using runways at the other end,” he said.

Rennick said he spent six months coordinating the agencies taking part.

Hospitals had to perform under similar critical stress last year when a gunman opened fire on dozens of people at Fairchild Air Force Base.

Even with that recent experience, hospitals see the airport drill as valuable, said Lori Taylor, trauma services manager at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“It’s a chance to pull out the disaster manual again. And a drill allows different staff to deal with circumstances they may need to know,” she said.

Fire departments will send fewer than 15 trucks, compared to the 30 or more that would be sent in a disaster.

Likewise, hospitals here will prepare some of their departments to handle the victims being transported from the airport.

Hospital supervisors will also make telephone calls to nurses and doctors who are on standby status, to see how many of them would be available if a crisis actually happened.

“That helps us know how many staff we’d likely be able to bring into the hospital in a real crisis,” Taylor said.

, DataTimes



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