Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will hold an emergency preparedness exercise on Saturday, Sept. 21, from 8:30 a.m. to approximately noon. A simulated aircraft accident will test the airport’s emergency response while providing hands-on training to airport and airline staff, hospitals, local jurisdictions and other emergency personnel. During the exercise, emergency personnel will respond as in a real emergency, including the use of sirens, firefighting equipment and helicopters.
The exercise will begin with an announcement of a simulated accident over the Airports Authority's emergency frequency. But the preparations for that moment have been months in the making. Reagan National Airport Operations, Airports Authority Fire and Rescue, Police and the rest of the airport community began planning for the exercise more than six months ago, developing the scenario and coordinating the logistics for a large-scale event.
Even 24 hours before the exercise begins, the preparations continue. A training aircraft, designed to be set on fire in order to test the firefighting response of the airport and the surrounding jurisdictions, has been pulled into place on the southern end of the airport. On the morning of the exercise, emergency vehicles will be staged in Arlington, Va., to better simulate their true response time in an actual emergency.
A script delineates exactly what will happen during the exercise. But its contents are a closely guarded secret.
"The element of surprise is important," said Airports Authority Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Tim Lasher, who is coordinating the response for emergency personnel during the exercise. "The less the responders know about what to expect, the better it is to test and challenge how they will respond in a real emergency when making the important decisions such an event will demand."
The exercise will be held in the secured airfield operations area and will not affect normal airport operations or flights. The exercise will include the following elements to add realism to the simulated emergency:
- More than 50 responding emergency vehicles, including mutual aid from 13 surrounding fire departments transporting ‘patients’ to hospitals
- Nearly 150 volunteer role players, moulaged to simulate injuries sustained from the incident
- A commercial passenger US Airways aircraft, from which ‘patients’ will be rescued
- Boats will deploy as part of a river rescue emergency response
- Support helicopters responding to the emergency exercise
- A trainer aircraft that will be ignited on fire for training purposes
- Participation by Airports Authority Fire and Rescue, Police and Airport Operations personnel
The full-scale emergency preparedness exercise, which is the culmination of months of planning and coordination across multiple jurisdictions and disciplines, is part of Federal Aviation Administration-mandated safety training to ensure airports are prepared for real-life aircraft emergencies. Airports are required to conduct these trainings every three years in order to be certified by the FAA.
PLEASE NOTE: Some of the exercise elements may be seen or heard on Saturday morning from areas surrounding the airport – especially in Arlington and Alexandria near U.S. Route 1, George Washington Memorial Parkway, I-395 and along the Potomac River near the airport.
This is only an exercise. It is not open to the public.