If you saw black, thick smoke and emergency vehicles on the south side of the airport last Thursday, here’s why. Every three years, the Wichita Airport Authority conducts an FAA-mandated Full-Scale Disaster Exercise. This year, the exercise was held on Thursday, Sept.17 and took place north of K-42, in between runways 1L and 14.
The scenario for the exercise was as follows: At approximately 0900 hours, the Air Traffic Control Tower advises that an aircraft is declaring an in-air emergency due to an issue with the right main landing gear. Upon landing, the right main landing gear fails and the aircraft crashes and comes to rest at the end of the runway.
Real disasters of this scale are extremely rare, and have never occurred at ICT. However, federal regulations and good emergency management practices require that all commercial airports in the U.S. practice responding to these events in a simulated environment.
During the exercise, Airport staff posted simulated information on Twitter @FlyICT, using the hashtag #ICTdrill.
We had over 100 airport personnel participate in this exercise, as well as responders from 18 various agencies, departments and organizations involved, including: Wichita Airport Authority, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, FAA Airport Traffic Control Tower, Wichita Fire Department, Wichita Police Department, Sedgwick County Sheriff, Sedgwick County Fire Department, Sedgwick County Emergency Management, Sedgwick County Emergency Communications, Eagle Med, and Transportation Security Administration.
During Covid-19, the airport took extra precautions by limiting the size of this exercise as well as using training manikins to replace volunteers as the simulated victims. Each manikin had specific injuries assigned so emergency workers treated each one differently.
Also because of Covid-19, our Family Incident Support Team was not involved. In a real accident, this team of volunteers would provide information and comfort to family members of victims.
From this exercise, we learned that some of our aircraft rescue fire trucks have the same call signs as some of the Wichita Fire Department fire trucks. This made making assignments a little confusing, but it was a simple problem to overcome.
We also learned that communication can always be difficult, but utilizing the Wichita Fire Department’s Field Command unit make it easy for all of the mutual aid agencies to communicate face-to-face in one location. Coordination between all mutual aid agencies can always be improved upon. When over 100 first responders from six different agencies are working together, getting everyone on the same page can be difficult.
Jason Jones, Deputy Chief of Airport Police & Fire, stated that overall the exercise went very well. He believes that we accomplished the objectives that we had in place and he looks forward to continuing to improve upon them.