Long Beach, News

Airport drills put Long Beach’s emergency crews to the test

A signal flare and fake smoke indicated to first responders that the drill had begun, and dozens of fire trucks and ambulances lined up to treat volunteer actors.

To better prepare for a worst-case disaster scenario, Long Beach Airport held Emergency Training Drills on the night of April 24 in order to test the effectiveness of their disaster response units.

“This is how [disaster units] drill and train all the time,” Director of Disaster Resources at Dignity Health Kathy Dollarhide said.

Long Beach emergency services simulated a terrorist attack against a JetBlue passenger jet to test the readiness and training of Long Beach’s first responders.

Conducting these drills helps the Long Beach Fire Department “ensure the safety of the public” in the event of a mass casualty incident, LBFD press intelligence officer Brian Fisk said.

Several law enforcement and emergency agencies coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration to observe and lend resources and manpower to the drill, Long Beach Airport Public Affairs Specialist Ryan Zummalen said.

Amongst the observers were representatives from Long Beach Search and Rescue, Long Beach Police Department, the FAA, the American Red Cross, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, Zummalen said.

Zummalen said the scenario imagined what would happen if a fuel tanker were intentionally rammed into a parked passenger jet.

These agencies used the drills to practice an orderly process to handling an unexpected terrorist attack by first separating and evacuating the injured passengers, then investigating the cause of the disaster.

Dignity Health partnered with Saint Mary’s Medical Center to provided volunteer victims from many local colleges for the drill, including nursing students from California State University, Long Beach, Dollarhide said.

“It’s nice to see and get some perspective on first responders and how much coordination [is involved],” senior architecture student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Alex Gomez said.

The drills were also a lesson for nursing and medical students by showing them how emergency crews handle mass casualty disasters, Dollarhide said.

“It’s exciting to be a part of it all,” nursing student Christina Iezza from Rio Hondo College said.

Local makeup artists painted the faces of the volunteers with bruises and glass cuts covered in fake blood in order for rescuers to categorize the volunteers by the severity of their condition and to make the simulation seem more realistic, Dollarhide said.

“As [first responders] are sending all these patients to hospitals, they keep track of their names and condition,” Dollarhide said.

First responders listed 16 as critically injured, and sent two from that group to the hospital on a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s helicopter, public intelligence officer of the LBFD Jake Heflin said.

The event concluded with a mock press conference, which helped the public relations officers from the airport prepare statements to the media and answer pressing questions, Heflin said.

The last drill in 2012 simulated a daytime crash landing of a jetliner.

The FAA is expected to release the results of their evaluation by the end of April, Zummalen said.

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