Fixing flaws - NMIA tweaks crash-readiness plan after simulation test
Communication challenges and a shortage of some resources slightly marred a water and aviation emergency simulation at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston last Thursday.
But operators of the airport were generally satisfied with the performance of emergency crews in the exercise, where more than 140 'crash survivors' were pulled from the simulated aeroplane wreckage in the initiative that involved the use of large airport fire trucks, a military helicopter and ambulances.
"With an exercise of this nature, what is usually very common, and for all my years in aviation, there is not one exercise where communication, at some point, does not go slightly off," said Dale Davis, chief operations officer at the NMIA.
"It is slightly standard, and what we as an airport have tried to do in anticipation of the communication challenges is that we have been holding a lot of meetings with our mutual agencies," added Davis.
The simulation involved participants from the NMIA's emergency crews, the security forces, the Ministry of Health, and others.
It was aimed at gauging the country's response in the event that a passenger airline crashes into the Kingston Harbour.
International airports are required to carry out a similar exercise every two years, but airport officials said last week's staging was the largest of its kind locally, and cost millions of dollars.
To start the exercise, more than 100 mannequins were cast into the sea near the airport. Rescue workers recovered the mannequins which were joined on the shore by screaming volunteers complaining of different injuries.
That was when the weakness in the emergency services response began to be seen.
From confusion about the docking of marine vessels and life rafts to the absence of crucial spinal board stretchers and unending shouts from one crew member to the next out of place colleague.
"Stretcher, stretcher!" yelled one Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) member as two emergency workers darted towards an aeroplane life raft tethered to a sloping dock. "Come 'round here. This side," the soldier continued.
"Watch it! Watch it!" one of the emergency workers bellowed, as his teammate slipped and lost grip of one handle of the stretcher, sending an 'injured' volunteer crashing on to the dock.
But these glitches were not enough to worry Davis.
"In the life of an airport, there is hardly a week that goes by where there isn't need to put our response agencies on alert.
"From my office, I am very pleased with the coordination and the execution of the exercise. We have had a number of observers and they have made notes as to where they think we can improve, and as an organisation, we will take that information and see how we can implement improvement in the overall response plan," Davis told The Sunday Gleaner.
He argued that it is impossible for the airport to invest in all emergency equipment that may be required in an emergency, but noted that procurement orders will be made for some apparatuses - especially the spinal board stretcher which featured heavily in last week's simulation.
The last major aircraft emergency occurred at the NMIA on December 22, 2009, American Airlines Flight 331 with 148 passengers and six crew members overshot the runway on landing.
The plane broke through the airport's perimeter fence and broke apart on a nearby roadway. Several persons were injured but there were no fatalities in that mishap.