On Saturday morning, police, fire and rescue vehicles were on the northeastern side of the airfield at T.F. Green Airport, responding to a plane crash on the runway.
But it was all in the name of practice and safety. The live exercise was put together by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), Rhode Island Emergency Management and emergency response partners to test the communication procedure between all the required parties in the event of an actual plane crash or similar disaster.
The drill involved almost 20 agencies, including the FAA, FBI, Rhode Island State Police, the Rhode Island Department of Health, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, RIAC Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF), Warwick Police and Fire, mutual aid partners, and staff from T.F. Green operations. There were also almost 250 volunteers to serve as victims of the plane crash, complete with made-up wounds that looked like they were out of a Hollywood movie. Volunteers were from the various agencies participating in the drill.
“This required exercise tests our responsiveness in the event of an incident or accident. There is a great deal of required communication and cooperation between first responders, city and state agencies, and RIAC,” said Kelly Fredericks, RIAC president and CEO, in a press release announcing the drill.
On Saturday morning, Alan Andrade, vice president of operations and maintenance at T.F. Green, said that live disaster preparedness exercises are performed every three years, usually testing a different aspect of the emergency response plan. This year, he said they were specifically looking at the communications between various agencies as well as the communication with area hospitals when transporting victims.
“That is part of what we are testing with the hospitals,” said Andrade. “Who can accommodate what level of triage.”
The day began around 8 a.m. when volunteers arrived and were given their roles and “wounds.” The actual exercise began just after 9 a.m. with the 911 call. The scene was contained, with most victims tended to or transported to the “hospital” by 10:30 a.m. The entire drill was finished by noon.
All of the volunteers were given roles to play as victims, ranging from being able to walk away from the “crash” with little injury to facing a life-threatening situation. One volunteer was even left on the “plane” (two coach buses were used to simulate the crashed plane) portraying a women who was about to go into labor.
“They like to assign different roles so you aren’t prepared for everything,” said Rebecca Pazienza, a spokesperson for RIAC.
“Victims” were also tagged by Warwick firefighters responding to the incident based on the severity of their injuries using the patient tracking system that was implemented by the state. Andrade explained that all rescues in the state are equipped with a laptop and will input all of the information associated with a patient into the computer using a corresponding barcode on each victim’s wristband, creating “patient accountability.”
“Once an incident occurs, all hospitals are notified,” said Andrade, adding that with the patient tracking system, hospitals are also notified as to what patient is suffering from what injuries. “They will know what they have coming.”
While the first responders on the scene were ARFF and Warwick Police and Fire, mutual aid partners from Cranston, Providence, East Greenwich, East Providence, West Warwick, North Providence, North Kingston and Central Coventry were also at the staging area. The various responders were told to wait a certain amount of time to mirror how long it would take to get to the site of the crash from their department locations, ranging from two minutes to 22 minutes.
ARFF was on the scene within minutes of the simulated call, and Warwick Police and Fire were on the scene in just about 15 minutes.
“Realistically, they would probably go a lot faster,” said Andrade, pointing out that the wait times might have been longer than necessary.
Pazienza said she believed the drill was a success.
“Overall, I think it went well,” she said yesterday afternoon. “We always try to push ourselves to learn what we can do better.”
While a live exercise such as this takes a year of planning and only occurs once every three years, it is important to note that all agencies involved in an emergency response plan at T.F. Green do complete a table-top exercise, or review of the plan, every year.