Emergency responders fly into action for simulated plane crash

Emergency responders swarmed everywhere near Risk Husband Amarillo International Airport Wednesday morning but thankfully, it was only for a simulated plane crash.

Every year, the City of Amarillo and all emergency responder agencies will plan and participate in some kind of emergency simulation. Wednesday, the Amarillo Fire Department, Amarillo Police Department, Department of Aviation, the Office of Emergency Management, AMS, BSA and Northwest Texas Hospital all participated in the exercise. Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Starbuck said acting in various simulated disasters will help emergency crews be better prepared for the real deal.

"The whole purpose behind this exercise is to test our ability to respond to an aircraft accident. It kind of gives us an opportunity to bring all these agencies together on a very large scale so we know what we can do when the real event occurs.

Each year the agencies create a different faux emergency, like in 2011 when emergency responders managed a situation similar to one that would take place after a bad tornado. Next year, they're already planning to create a simulated terrorism disaster in Amarillo. This year, fire fighters responded to a "crashed plane" out near the airport, sprayed it down to put out what would have been a fuel fire and began pulling volunteer passengers from two buses that represented the interior of the plane.

"The first responders are pulling everybody off the aircraft and is going through an assessment process to determine how secure their injuries are and determining where they need to send them to as far as which hospital based on their injuries," said Starbuck.

50 volunteers were pulled from the "scene of the crash", all with injuries varying in severity. Many of them moaned and screamed as the simulation progressed, organizers said to help boost the stress level of the situation.

"Anything like this is going to be the most stressful thing that any of the passengers have been through, the responders have been through," said Captain Wes Hall with the Amarillo Fire Department. "Stress does change the way you act. It speeds you up, it gets your going in ways that you might not have otherwise so we try to recreate that."

Throughout the whole simulation, emergency crews were being evaluated. Starbuck said those evaluations are then used help identify and improve in weaker areas.

"We have a whole series of controllers and evaluators here throughout the exercises, taking notes and looking at what they do positively and what we can improve upon," added Starbuck.

"If we don't know how to do it out here, it's going to be rough if something like this does happen," said Captain Hall.

Overall, Starbuck felt Wednesday's simulation was a success.

"We maybe had a little bit of delay, some of the exercise artificiality is you're trying to simulate a response and I think that slowed some of the response down," he said. "Otherwise, I think they would've been here much quicker but what I've seen and what I've observed so far has been excellent."