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Airport Stages Mock Disaster Drill

{mosimage}Several agencies were on hand to perform a Federal Aviation Agency-required simulation.

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Santa Barbara Airport staged a disaster drill Tuesday morning, mocking an airplane crash on takeoff. The drill was intended to test the airport’s emergency response plan. Participants from several agencies, including Santa Barbara County and city emergency responders, several airlines, UCSB and SBCC crowded the tarmac, simulating the crash and triage site.

“In real life things would be a lot less clear,” said Santa Barbara City Fire Captain Gary Pitney, who provided observers with explanations of what was going on during the exercise. Things would be wetter, he said, and there would be smoke, dirt, jet fuel and flame retardant everywhere.

On the bright clear morning, firefighters took SBCC student “passengers” from an MTD bus that served as a broken fuselage. The victims were then triaged and tagged  according to their injuries: green for minor injuries, yellow for non-life threatening injuries, red for critically injured, black for deceased.

One of the goals of the drill would be to assess how emergency responders would take care of the passengers of the downed plane. In the smoke and ash and confusion, said Pitney, people don’t always stay in one place. The point was illustrated by a distraught victim who attempted to run back to the fuselage to find her friend before being subdued by a firefighter.

Behind the scenes, said Pitney, other personnel would be handling the situation inside the terminal, dealing with frightened passengers and grieving relatives. The FBI would be investigating the crash if there was reason to believe suspicious activity connected with the incident.

“I think it’s a great idea to have a simulation like this. We all learn from it,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, who was one of a handful of observers watching the drill.

The airport last May almost had a real-life incident when a small plane carrying a few passengers crashed upon takeoff at the far west end of the runway. No one was killed, and Tecolotito Creek had already been diverted to make way for the runway overrun zone.

“(The plane) would have gone into the creek had the creek still been there," said Santa Barbara Council Member Helene Schneider, who was similarly impressed by the morning’s efforts.

For Goleta City Council Member Roger Aceves, a former police officer with experience in these kinds of drills, the agencies’ collaboration was top-notch.

“They are organized to the nth degree,” he said, adding that the agencies will critique their exercise nevertheless.

Some criticisms might involve the apparent delay in treating the more severely injured victims as responders seemed to move more quickly to the ones who had less severe injuries. Others might involve the simple lack of shrouding the dead victims. Coordinators and evaluators were present to watch their respective agencies’ work and will continue to discuss the exercise and find various ways of improving, said Pitney.

The major aircraft disaster simulation is a requirement set by the Federal Aviation Administration  and is performed every three years. 

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