By Casey Torres
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A fake emergency was underway Wednesday night at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport that put our first responders to the test. The FAA requires all airports to simulate emergency scenarios every three years. “It’s very valuable. We always want our first responders and our airport partners to be prepared in the event that something happens. Of course, we hope that something never happens, but it’s important for us to be prepared,” said Heather Shelbrack with Sky Harbor.
About 500 airport members began planning for the 2023 Triennial Exercise about a year ago. They came up with the scenario and took suggestions from other agencies wanting to help.
The drill scenario was about an airplane from Cancun heading to Sky Harbor when a lithium wheelchair battery exploded inside the plane’s cargo bin and caught fire. The flames spread to the other bags and damaged the flight controls. The plane ended up crashing at the airport and caught on fire.
During the exercise, green smoke simulated the flames. Airport first responders, Phoenix firefighters, Phoenix police and several other neighboring agencies took part in the exercise. Over 170 volunteers acted as dead or seriously hurt victims. Many of them had make-up to mimic real injuries. “One of the biggest goals is to look at response times as well as test our procedures and test new procedures to see how we’re responding. Are we able to quickly transport some of those injured, etc?” said Shelbrack.
She explained since the make-believe flight was from Cancun, Customs and Border Protection agents were also a part of the drill to make sure they accurately cleared passengers from other countries and connected them to their families.
Surrounding hospitals and Red Cross staff also participated in the drill. “After the exercise, we will have a debrief and talk about everything that happened. The good, the bad and what can be improved in the future,” said Shelbrack.
The exercise took place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Shelbrack said it did not interrupt any flights going in or out of the airport. She explained the 2020 Triennial Exercise didn’t involve as many people and had to be broken up into groups due to the pandemic. This year, it was a full-scale exercise.