Preparing For The Unexpected

by Hal Davis
WisDOT Bureau of Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2020 issue

Airports and pilots alike take pride in their preparedness for emergency situations. We have our index of checklists and practice them regularly. But what happens when there’s no checklist for the situation you are facing? How many of you had a checklist titled “pandemic” before this year? In those cases, we use our instincts and listen to expert advice. Mistakes may be made, but hopefully important lessons are learned. Now is the time to draw from that experience and create a better plan for the future. For an airport manager, that means dusting off the airport emergency plan.

Get To Know Your First Responders

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires airports serving air carriers to have a formal airport emergency plan which describes how the airport will respond to different emergency situations. Though not required, some form of airport emergency planning is highly recommended at airports of all sizes. A small general aviation airport might have less air traffic, but also probably has far fewer resources when responding to an emergency. Ultimately, no airport has the ability to respond to every type of emergency on its own. Therefore, every airport must depend to some degree on the resources of its surrounding community.

A portion of any airport’s emergency plan should be dedicated to identifying critical community resources, establishing lines of communication, and working with and training those resources so that they are familiar with the airport and can be relied upon in an emergency.

In a recent survey of Wisconsin fire departments, respondents were asked to identify the airports they serve. Several Wisconsin airports were unaccounted for in this survey, leading us to believe that there is a need for airport managers to reach out to their local fire department. Simply calling 911 in the event of an emergency is not adequate. Proactively building and maintaining relationships with first responders can dramatically improve emergency response at airports and reduce the severity of the incident.

Airport Emergencies

While emergencies can seldom be predicted, they can be anticipated and prepared for. The types of emergencies an airport should prepare for will vary from airport to airport. Identifying those potential emergencies and hazards is an important step in the development of an airport emergency plan. In general, all airports should have a plan for responding to:
• aircraft accidents,
• structural and fuel fires,
• hazardous material spills,
• power outages, and
• medical emergencies.

Airports should also plan for natural disasters, such as severe weather and flooding. After September 11, 2001, planning for security incidents and terrorism became obvious as well. More recently, it has become apparent there is a need for emergency response planning for suspicious or hazardous drone operations near airports and of course, pandemics.

Fortunately, many emergency situations have a low probability. For that reason, emergency planning can easily be overlooked or ignored. Now is the time to make emergency planning a priority and create or update the airport emergency plan. For help and guidance, refer to FAA advisory circular 150/5200-31C or give us a call at 608-266-3351.

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