Don’t be alarmed if you see smoke billowing at Glacier Park International Airport on an upcoming Saturday.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 16, Flathead County and airport officials are conducting a full-scale exercise simulating an airplane crash to test the region’s disaster response efficiency.
As part of the exercise, debris piles will be lit on fire to mimic the conditions of an actual crash, said Cindy Mullaney, deputy director for the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services.
More than 200 people will participate in the “mass casualty exercise,” from a wide range of organizations at the local, state and federal levels. From Kalispell Regional Medical Center alone, there are an expected 90 participants, Mullaney said.
Among the local agencies are emergency medical services, fire departments, 911 response teams, law enforcement, the airport, KRMC, North Valley Hospital and American Red Cross.
Mullaney said the Montana Highway Patrol, U.S. Border Patrol and Transportation Security Administration will also be present, along with SkyWest Airlines and Horizon Air.
“It’s a pretty all-encompassing exercise,” Mullaney said.
The exercise will take place on the backside of the airport off of Trumble Creek Road. Mullaney said the airport will remain open and scheduled flights will not be affected.
Responders will arrive to find a bus on its side, serving as a makeshift plane. Organizers will “moulage” victims, meaning volunteers are given mock injuries and arranged as if they had just been involved in an accident.
“We have people in Flathead County who are really good at that,” Mullaney said of the moulage participants. “That adds a huge degree of realism to the exercise, not only for the people responding to the scene, but also for when these people are transported to the hospital and are at the hospital.”
In all, Mullaney said there are four venues being used: the airport, North Valley Hospital, KRMC and the county’s 911 center.
The event is an opportunity for the county to test out its “trunked radio system,” which Mullaney said was received through Homeland Security grant funds as part of a statewide system.
“This will be the first test of that communication system,” she said.
Through an emergency operations plan, Flathead County officials have identified the need for a mass casualty and mass fatality disaster response strategy coordinating the many different agencies and organizations that would be involved with such an event. This is the first major test for the casualty and fatality plan.
“The end result is that we will evaluate the exercises and come up with corrective actions that may need to take place,” Mullaney said. “We can make those changes and get those people trained and if anything like this ever happened we’d be in a much better position to effectively handle it.”
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