Airport prepares for emergency situations in simulation

Jackson Police Tactical Unit members neutralize the mock "terrorists” and free the “hostages” in a hangar of the McKeller-Sipes Regional Airport during a drill involving local law enforcement and emergency response teams. | Photo by Victoria Stargel

By Elizabeth Waibel

Emergency management officials conducted an exercise to prepare for the possibility of a terrorist attack at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport last month.

The exercise was meant to help officials know how to respond in the event of a domestic terrorist attack or a similar emergency situation.

The program’s organizers designed a scenario with different elements to involve different agencies and acted it out. Officials then responded as they would in a real-life situation.

The scenario started with a car chase that ended in a wreck and a hazardous material spill. Several “bad guys” escaped the wreck and fled to a mock terminal where they planted a “bomb” and took hostages, played by volunteers.

Police stormed the building and freed the hostages, including one the terrorists tried to take to a nearby plane.

When everyone was safely out of the building, the bomb squad sent in a robot to defuse the bomb.

Marty Clements, director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency, said it is possible the agencies and people involved in the exercise will face this type of domestic- terrorism incident.

He said the event was coordinated for the airport because personnel, as well as the Local Emergency Planning Committee, are required to hold exercises.

Steve Smith, airport security coordinator and executive director at the airport, said the exercise was the result of cooperation between many different agencies that would respond in this type of emergency.

“We had a really good exercise; we had a big exercise, and that’s important — when we get everybody working together,” he said.

Smith said about 150 people participated in the exercise, including more than 70 law enforcement officials from several different organizations, three fire departments, emergency medical services and emergency management officials. Nursing students volunteered to act as hostages with various injuries and the Red Cross provided food for the participants.

“Everybody has worked together well,” he said. “The different scenarios played themselves out — the car wreck with injuries, the nitrous ammonia (leak), the hostage situation, the problem with the airplane and then the bomb — so it all worked out really well.”

Smith echoed Clements’ sentiments on the importance of being prepared to face the possibility of a terrorist attack.

“One of the hardest things to do is to identify and protect against domestic terrorism,” he said. “We do know it is a real possibility and something we have to guard (against) right now, every day.”

He also said the exercise served its purpose by showing participants ways in which they could be better prepared for emergencies.

“We’re pleased with what we saw,” Smith said. “We found some things we have got to improve on, but that’s the reason we do these types of exercises.”

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