Never mind the smoke and sirens at the Juneau airport: It’s only a drill

Firefighter Craig Brown with A-1, Capital City Fire/Rescue's newest Airport Rescue Firefighting (ARFF) vehicle, at Juneau International Airport in August 2018. This vehicle will likely be used during a disaster exercise planned at the airport on July 20, 2019.

Firefighter Craig Brown with A-1, Capital City Fire/Rescue’s newest Airport Rescue Firefighting, or ARFF, vehicle, at Juneau International Airport in August 2018. This vehicle might be used during a disaster exercise planned at the airport on Saturday, July 20, 2019. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Airport officials have organized a disaster exercise for Saturday.

Capital City Fire/Rescue, the Juneau Police Department, Bartlett Regional Hospital, the American Red Cross and a whole host of volunteers will participate in the drill on airport grounds.

Scott Rinkenberger, superintendent of the Juneau International Airport, said the exercise is required to be held every three years as part of their certification by the Federal Aviation Administration as an operating airport.

“We want to be prepared, and we want to test our emergency response agencies in support of the airport’s emergency action plan,” Rinkenberger said.

He couldn’t reveal beforehand the exact nature of the simulated accident on the airport grounds, but he said it would likely include an incident involving the largest scheduled commercial passenger aircraft routinely handled by the airport, some props and smoke, and volunteers role-playing victims and family members.

The airport and runway are expected to remain open for routine operations, and there is expected to be no impact on scheduled flights during the exercise.

Listen to the interview with Scott Rinkenberger, superintendent of the Juneau International Airport:
 

The 'first-outs', or the first ARFF vehicles dispatched to an incident at the Juneau International Airport, are parked outside the Glacier Valley Fire Station.

The ‘first-outs’, or the first ARFF vehicles dispatched to an incident at the Juneau International Airport, are parked outside the Glacier Valley Fire Station in this August 2018 photo. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Interview transcript

Matt Miller, KTOO
Airport officials are holding a disaster exercise tomorrow morning. Capital City Fire/Rescue, Juneau police, Bartlett Regional Hospital, Red Cross and a whole host of volunteers will participate in the drill on airport grounds. And with us on the line to tell us more is Scott Rinkenberger, superintendent of the Juneau International Airport. Good morning, Scott.

Scott Rinkenberger, Juneau International Airport superintendent
Good morning, Matt.

Matt Miller
What’s been simulated at the airport tomorrow?

Scott Rinkenberger
Well, the Juneau airport is a federally-obligated airport that receives funding from the FAA for various airport improvements. So therefore, as part of our certification with the FAA, as an operating airport, we’re required to conduct a full-scale emergency exercise at least every three years. So what we are planning on doing tomorrow is we’re going to be simulating an aircraft accident or emergency here on the airport grounds. And we’re using, or recruiting I should say, many volunteers to portray injured passengers or role play and other aspects that would be involved in emergency, like distraught family members or bystanders, etc. So we’re going to be setting up a scenario and some props here on the airport that simulates an aircraft accident, on the airport grounds, so we will have various people portraying these injured passengers. And we will also have some props that may involve live burning, some smoke. So we want to let the public know that this is just an exercise. It’s like a fire drill, when we were in grade school. We want to be prepared and we want to test our response for our emergency response agencies in support of the airport’s emergency action plan.

Matt Miller
And what kind of exercise are we talking about? What kind of accident? Is it going to be a crash? Or can you specify, or you don’t want to give things away here?

Scott Rinkenberger
Well, to keep the realism of the scenario and to make the response as natural as possible to a real world emergency, we kind of keep the nuts and bolts of this scenario kind of a tightly-held secret. Because we don’t want people to really know. We want them to respond to the incident and the scenario as it unfolds. But what we have to do is we have to involve in the simulation the largest scheduled aircraft that comes in and out of the general airport which is the 737-900 which carries approximately about 170 or so passengers. So we’re going to be building our scenario … around that aircraft.

Matt Miller
So … people are going to see a lot of sirens, or hear a lot of sirens, see a lot of flashing lights, see possibly fire and smoke from somewhere on the airport, somewhere there, right?

Scott Rinkenberger
That is correct. There’s going to be a lot of increased activity on the airport grounds, there’s going to be emergency equipment, there’s going to be the crash trucks are going to be driving around on the airport responding to the simulated emergency with their lights and sirens flashing. Airport vehicles responding to the simulated accident with their lights and sirens. There’s going to be a lot of people on the ground, milling around the accident scene itself, which will give our responding agencies the opportunity to maintain crowd control, etc. So, and there’s also the possibility of a temporary plume of smoke. If the scenario indicates that or unfolds that the aircraft or one of the engines caught fire, for example.

Matt Miller
And tell me about the volunteers. Are they going to be role-playing victims essentially?

Scott Rinkenberger
Yes, a lot of our volunteers are going to be role-playing as injured passengers with varying degrees of injuries. We have several makeup artists that are going to be assisting us with doing moulage, which is kind of a French term for fake injuries, if you will. So they’ll be putting some simulated blood on their arm, or making a simulated injury or something to that effect. Just like in the movies, we have some makeup artists who are gonna make up our injured passengers to really give our first responders an opportunity to practice their triage and sort through the various injured people to see who goes to the hospital.

Matt Miller
So as part of the exercise, they’re actually going to be transported to the hospital, and they have to deal with them there as well, too, right?

Scott Rinkenberger
That is correct. Bartlett Regional Hospital is also going to be exercising their mass casualty incident plan. So all of our simulated role players, or our simulated injured passengers, will be physically transported to the hospital, which is part of the airport’s responsibility in getting medical aid to injured people in an aircraft accident.

Matt Miller
Is the airport going to be shut down during this?

Scott Rinkenberger
No … we have planned this exercise so it will have no impact on airport operations or any scheduled flights. There’s air traffic control towers involved, all the aircraft — or I should say airlines — are involved from Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, Alaska Seaplanes, and so forth. So all our scheduled services will run uninterrupted. This will kind of be staged in an ancillary area on the airport.

Matt Miller
OK, that’s Scott Rinkenberger, superintendent of the Juneau International Airport, telling us about tomorrow’s exercise on the airport grounds. Thanks a lot for talking with us this morning, Scott.

Scott Rinkenberger
You bet Matt. Thank you so much.

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