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Ref: North Dakota responders practice airport emergency response

Bismark Tribune

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Emergency preparedness exercise planned at Bismarck Airport

By GORDON WEIXEL/Bismarck Tribune
Death, destruction, darkness and for good measure maybe even some bad weather will play a part in a full-scale emergency preparedness exercise at the Bismarck Municipal Airport Thursday evening.

The death and destruction will be faked for the purposes of testing emergency response. The darkness and bad weather, well that's just what comes naturally during late March in North Dakota.

Bismarck emergency manager Gary Stockert said the date and time were purposely chosen to add some challenge to the exercise. About 150 people including responders, victims and evaluators will be participating. It all starts at about 7 p.m. at the airport, with the conclusion to happen somewhere between 10 and 11 p.m.

"Usually these have been held in the summer months a little earlier in the day," Stockert said. "But emergencies don't always happen during nice summer days at convenient times, so we decided to move it up a few months and make it later in the day when darkness starts rolling in."

Such exercises are mandated of the Bismarck airport by the Federal Aviation Administration every three years. Stockert has been busy planning the scenario since last September and admits it's taken quite a push to have everything in place by March. The scenario involves an airline accident at the airport, and responders can expect that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Members of the Ski Patrol will be the actors portraying victims, along with cardboard dummies with cards attached indicating their condition. Responders and others participating will include Bis-Man Transit, Bismarck Public Schools, chaplaincy, Metro Area Ambulance, police, fire, Public Health, Public Works and airport personnel. Simultaneously, St. Alexius Medical Center, Medcenter One and the Emergency Operations Center will be conducting concurrent exercises based on the airport emergency.

"While the full-scale exercise is going on, at the same time the Emergency Operation Center will hold a table-top exercise," Stockert said. "City administration, the fire chief, police chief, public works director and public health director will be gathered to discuss how to support resource requests from the incident and advanced planning."

Bismarck-Burleigh Combined Communications will handle communications during the event. Emergency calls will go through 911 which will dispatch response units.

Many of the emergency responders will be pre-staged, but since this is supposed to be a real-time exercise, once they receive their dispatch orders an appropriate amount of time will pass before they actually show up at the scene.

The public is forewarned that there will be an increased amount of activity at the airport Thursday evening. There also will be ambulances transporting the victims to the hospitals.

The accident response will focus on the Incident Command System. More than 300 responders have gone through the training since last November, and now will be their chance to display what they've learned about command and control, according to Stockert.

The exercise scenario is expected to conclude at about 10 p.m. and will then be followed by a "hot wash" in which participants will provide and get feedback on what went right and what can be improved.

Ninety percent of Stockert's time has been invested in setting up the exercise.

"If I did my job correctly, I'll just be walking around and observing," Stockert said.

With the National Weather Service calling for possible winter conditions on Thursday it is possible the exercise will be postponed. Set up will begin in the morning and a determination will be made by noon if the event is called off due to conditions.

"Anything that could cause a major safety concern will cancel the exercise. Our goal is to make a decision by noon allowing us enough time to notify everyone," Stockert said.

Copyright İ 2006 Bismarck Tribune, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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