Agencies Prepare for Airport Emergency

Staff Writer

A “what if?” scenario can be a difficult thing to prepare for but it is important to be prepared for those situations. Wednesday evening, the Auglaize County Local Emergency Planning Commission, state and county Emergency Management Agency and local fire departments ran through one of those scenarios with a tabletop exercise at the Neil Armstrong Airport.

The scene was set as a plane crash caused by a car. The scenario stated that an unauthorized passenger car was joyriding through the airport and collided with a taxying commuter jet, sparking a fire and triggering a large response from local agencies. 

Per the preplan established for emergencies at the airport, New Knoxville Fire Department was simulated as the first units on scene to lead the rest of the exercise. As an extra bit of training, New Knoxville Fire Chief Jerry Merges stepped back from his role as the department’s main commander and allowed Capt. Ben Wessel to take the lead on the exercise.

“I learned a lot about not only operations but also about the importance of establishing and maintaining good communications throughout and event like this,” Wessel said at the end of the two-hour exercise. 

Though the exercise was exclusively on paper, the timing of the responses and the people who would respond was planned and documented just as it would be at a live scene. Under the observation of Ohio EMA Emergency Management Specialist Sam Reed, Auglaize EMA Director Troy Anderson, LEPC Chairman Doug Ayers and Merges, Wessel talked through what would happen if a tragedy were to hit the airport. 

In the exercise, Wessel and other members of New Knoxville Fire would arrive on scene to discover the severity of the crash and call for additional agencies to respond while also working to put out the fire caused by the crash. 

In addition to the importance of practicing what to do in a large incident, the tabletop is also a vital part of securing funding for emergency services within the county. Ayers stated that the funding the LEPC receives is based on the county’s ability to prepare for disasters.

Anderson noted that while the final result of the exercise needs to be certified by SERC. However, he felt the exercise went well and was a good way for county agencies to learn more about each other’s roles.

“I think it went really well and I don’t say that often,” he said.

With more experience under their belts, county agencies and local fire departments are better prepared to face the challenges that can arise from a crash or disaster at the county’s airport. Seeing how the departments worked together and better learning the role of the airport in a situation such as the one practiced Wednesday night, Airport Manager Ted Bergstrom added that he feels even more at ease with what will happen should tragedy strike.

“I would say tonight showed the level of preparedness all the agencies around here have and all the work they have put into this through preplanning and training,” Bergstrom said. “Statistically, an event like this is rare but you never know where rare will be. I would say the chance is possible; likely, no, but you never know when that’s going to come up and that’s what this training is all about.”

The EMA will schedule a full-scale disaster drill for later this summer to allow agencies a hands-on opportunity to learn what to do in real time.