Story and Photos by Ty O’Neil
Scroll down for a gallery of images from the event.
The Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Thursday took part in a mass casualty exercise, an activity required by the Federal Aviation Administration and executed every three years.
RTIA spokesman Brian Kulpin said the airport goes beyond the FAA requirements, making it a community-wide exercise involving numerous departments and expanding the training all the way to transporting the “victims” to local hospitals.
Kulpin went on to explain the value of the training exercise, noting that the 2011 National Championship Air Races crash happened just three months after a previous training exercise. He said during his contact with the FAA he was told that lives were saved in that event as a direct result of the lessons learned during the 2011 training exercise.
More than a year of planning went into the event, in part to ensure precautions were taken to keep all participants safe and prevent panic from unaffiliated bystanders at the airport. Banners explaining the training exercise were visible throughout the airport, and incoming flights were informed of the activity to prevent alarming arriving passengers.
Media was invited to play one of two roles. One cadre of reporters filmed and photographed the training for local news. The second group served as participants in the training, giving airport staff experience in dealing with local media via a mock interview as well as the constant challenge of wrangling photographers, videographers, and reporters around an active and stressful environment.
A cargo shipping container served as a mock fuselage and the acting “victims” were dressed in full moulage makeup to simulate injuries. It was almost surreal to see burn victims and people with false open wounds mingling and taking selfies before the event kicked off. After a bit of corralling the volunteers were placed around the mock airplane and a final coat of fake blood was applied to add to the realism.
This year, rather than a simulation of a plane crash emergency personnel were responding to a scenario of fire or possible explosion during departure of an international flight. No reason was given, and people freely speculated their own ideas. My personal guess would be a reaction to the recent restrictions placed on lithium-ion batteries.
As the exercise officially began the “survivors” started acting out their roles, some screaming out for help, others dazed and walking around the tarmac, and still more in various states of injury and mobility.
The pace was slow as first responders moved with careful and precise movements. Speed was not the emphasis of the day. Responders went step-by-step looking for mistakes, so if the time does ever come for a similar response they will be able to move with both speed and precision.
I spoke with Kacey Crooks, a volunteer “victim,” who told me that this was her first participating as a victim in such a large scale event. She had some experience as a victim in outdoor rescue training. She learned of the opportunity to participate in the airport’s event through her volunteer work with local non-profit Urban Roots.