Airport Emergency Operations

When there is an emergency situation at any of the airports across the country an immediate and coordinated response is required to address the situation and to manage and organize the emergency responders and the fluctuating dynamics that an airport emergency creates.

From natural disasters, fuel spills, terroristic threats or airline disasters, the type and speed of the response is critical. Failure to act quickly or provide the proper response can lead to confusion, lack of organization, panic, and life-changing delays that can have a significant impact on the outcome of the emergency. In a real-world emergency situation, there is rarely a second chance to define the outcome.

Airport Emergency Plan

Airports are required to have an airport emergency plan to establish operational procedures to provide guidance in the handling of airport emergencies. The airport emergency plan usually cannot address every situation that might arise, but it is intended to provide guidance depending on the complexity of the situation and the variables that are involved in an emergency such as the type of emergency situation, location of the emergency, type of aircraft involved, current weather conditions and the resources available at the specific airport.

While many emergencies will be similar across most airports, airports also need to identify specific hazards that may be unique to their particular airport, for example, regional weather situations such as blizzards or hurricanes. Airport emergency plans involve a number of different agencies and are created to incorporate the emergency plans of the other supporting groups such as any local city emergency response plans, OSHA and EPA plans or specific state emergency resource management guidelines.

Emergency Response Team

In addition to the airport emergency plan, an Emergency Response Team will be created to manage the responsibilities of all the parties involved in responding to an airport emergency situation and ensure the organization and cooperation of all who participate.

Groups that participate and help coordinate the response to airport emergencies include airport personnel such as air traffic controllers, Airport Rescue and Firefighting Crews (ARFF), airport administrators and security teams, local entities such as local law enforcement, hospitals, and media outlets, and specific federal aviation and relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross and FEMA, FAA or the NTSB depending on the emergency situation.

An Emergency Response Center will also be set up to provide a central location to gather information on the emergency to ensure that complete and accurate communication is distributed across all of the involved groups to produce the best possible outcome for the situation.

Training and Exercises

One of the things that help to develop the best response to an emergency situation is to train all of the participants thoroughly in their responsibilities and to repeatedly practice the processes set out in the airport emergency plan.

The training must be comprehensive and recurrent and primarily focus on the coordination and communication with all the other agencies involved to ensure everyone knows their role in an emergency situation.

Hands-on training can be through a number of different methods from live drills which can focus on a single aspect of the emergency preparedness process to full-scale exercises which can simulate the aspects of a large emergency event, such as an aircraft accident.

Full-scale exercises involve many groups and are designed to portray a real disaster response as close as possible so that the groups experience the full depth of the emergency as they would in real-life situations. Some airports are required to participate in a full-scale exercise at least once every 36 months. All of the participants are required to play a role in the planning process and planning for these types of exercises can take from 6 months to as much as a year.

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