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Emergency Exercise at O.R. Tambo International
Thursday, March 23, 2006 | 00:00


Today, Thursday 23 March 2006, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) along with essential stakeholders conducted a full scale emergency simulation exercise near O.R. Tambo International Airport (ORTIA). The exercise, dubbed Operation Kaizen, is aimed at improving the state of readiness of all role-players in terms of handling major aircraft incidents at or near ORTIA. 

“Compared to when we conducted the first exercise in 2002, we have made great strides in terms of coordinating the roles of various stakeholders, harmonising communication, responding timeously and utilising the experience gained from the previous two exercises. Today was about strengthening all these factors,” says Bryan Thompson, ORTIA’s Assistant General Manager: Operations.

As per the South African Civil Aviation Authority legislation, as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), ORTIA has a comprehensive emergency management system in place. This system must be tested through a full-scale emergency simulation every two years. Exercise Fireball and Operation SWOT took place in March 2002 and March 2004 respectively.

Today’s exercise involved participants from no fewer than 10 different fields including South African Airways, Air Traffic and Navigation Services, Ekurhuleni Disaster Management, Ekurhuleni Emergency Services, the Provincial Ambulance Service, the South African National Defence Force, the South African Police Service (SAPS), Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department, ACSA staff, members of the Airport Clergy Service, Airport Clinic, as well as an airport based cargo operator.

Johan van den Heever, Acting Manager of Operations at Ekurhuleni Emergency Services, says since ORTIA falls within the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council area, such exercises were extremely useful for the various departments within the Council. “The complex nature of an airport and the specialised expertise required, however, makes the existing strong and counter supportive relationship between Ekurhuleni and ACSA, a vital cog in the emergency service management machine,” he adds. 

Bert Meintjes, Head of SAA Safety and Security, says although SAA is regarded by the industry as one of the safest airlines worldwide, the airline does have a comprehensive emergency response management programme in place, designed to care and to look after the families and survivors in case of an air disaster, or a serious incident or accident.

"As an airline we have to be prepared for any eventuality. Our policies and procedures in case of an emergency have to be tested to see how ready we are should a crisis or disaster strike. We are fortunate to have had this opportunity to evaluate our emergency response management system during an exercise of this expansive nature,” Meintjes added.

As SAA gears up to join the Star Alliance network of airlines next month, Operation Kaizen was also the airline’s first opportunity to tests its new emergency systems, which have been fully aligned with the Star Alliance requirements.

Emergency scenario
The exercise simulated a crash of a Boeing 747-400 aircraft into Boksburg Lake, with 105 passengers and six crew members on board and five people at the Lake. ORTIA’s Fire and Rescue Service as well as South African Airways went to great lengths to create the most realistic and authentic crash site possible. 
The passengers were distributed within and around the aircraft amongst piles of luggage and broken aircraft seats.

All passengers were clearly marked with injury tags to indicate the nature and extent of their injuries. The tagging system facilitated the triage process whereby patients were directed and transported according to the severity of their injuries. The triage tags were all ICAO compliant as set by the triage guidelines. Ambulances, buses and helicopters were used to ferry the injured to hospitals around O.R. Tambo International Airport, ranging from the “walking wounded” to the very seriously injured.

“To make an exercise of this nature worthwhile, we have to create an authentic environment that our emergency services may realistically have to face, in the event of an air disaster. In addition, unlike during the previous two exercises, the operation was made complex as the response teams had to search for the crashed aircraft in a residential area,” says ORTIA’s Manager: Fire & Rescue Rapulane Monageng.

“The flames, smoke traps and explosions are all factors they would potentially have to deal with, so we need to test their ability to perform under those difficult conditions. The fire created was very similar to what we would have fight in a real situation,” he added.

The crash scenario was made more realistic with the use of fire, explosions and plenty of smoke. Controlled fires leapt around the aircraft and passengers, while smoke bombs, as well as smoke bomb booby traps, within the aircraft kept emergency teams working within very realistic conditions. Members of the SAPS bomb squad rigged plastic explosives to mark the impact of the aircraft as well as a number of smaller explosions.

SAPS and general security
A crash site is, however, considered a crime scene so overall control of security rests with the SAPS. Large numbers of police officers were deployed during this exercise, to maintain the very highest security standards. In such an emergency, the SAPS plays a vital role in overall access control to the crime scene, assisting those parties who legitimately require access, as well as maintaining the integrity of the crime scene.

Part of this involves a pegging system whereby the location of the dead and injured is marked for later investigation. This pegging function falls within the ambit of the SAPS. Another SAPS function is the location, marking and retrieval of the flight voice recorder, also known as the “black box”. Once the box has been located, SAPS investigators are tasked with marking its location, retrieving the box and handing it to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for processing.

South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) The purpose of the CAA investigation in the event of an accident, as described by Civil Aviation Regulations, is to determine the facts of an incident in the interest of the promotion of aviation safety and the reduction of the risk of aviation accidents or incidents - and not to establish legal liability. CAA investigators will attempt to arrive on the site of the accident as soon as possible while the emergency services have the initial task of emergency management and rescue.

Once the scene is secure, investigators then moved in, to begin the on-site aspect of their investigation process. The CAA does, however, fulfil a vital function in terms of documentation of all the aspects that had set the scene for the operation that resulted from the accident situation. The CAA’s focus remains the maintenance and constant improvement of safety levels of the aviation industry in South Africa and to institute rectification measures where necessary.

“Meeters and Greeters” within the terminal Within the terminal, there were volunteers on hand to fulfil the role of the friends, family and “meeters” who had gathered within the arrivals hall to meet passengers on the incoming flight. These groups were accommodated within The Premier Conference Centre in Terminal B, the domestic terminal, where they primarily become the responsibility of the airline involved.

The airline follows a series of procedures to manage such a situation, reconciling “walking wounded” as well as linking the “meeters and greeters” to the passengers they had come to welcome.

Managing the Airspace: ATNS
During any critical emergency at an airport, the bulk of the attention will obviously be afforded to the crisis at hand. However, remaining air traffic within South African airspace and beyond could be directly or indirectly affected by this emergency and would still have to be accommodated. It is here that the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company (ATNS) play an essential role.
As the real emergency situation has primarily a local impact, the situation will also affect all other arriving, departing and en-route air traffic around the country that will be running according to normal schedules involving that airport. This would mean that air traffic will still be arriving from various departure points for landing at the affected airport, along with other traffic wishing to depart (for both local and international arrivals and departures).
As ATNS is responsible for the safe, orderly, expeditious and efficient flow of air traffic, ATNS would make every attempt to engineer the least disruption to all airline operators at the airport in question as well as in the greater airspace. The airspace will continue to be managed and all relevant air traffic management community members would be thoroughly briefed on the measures taken to ensure minimal disruption (this will include inter alia any delays and/or flow restrictions that may have to be put in place).
Naturally, each situation is unique and will most certainly determine the best course of action that will be taken to continue ensuring the safe and orderly movement of all air traffic. Together with ATNS’s direct partners, the service would ensure that the safest and least disruptive measures would be implemented during the period of an emergency.  

A debrief session will be held to assess performance to see where systems have worked and areas where can improve and strengthen as an airport emergency response. Local evaluators were used to monitor and assess the exercise as well as Kenyon International Emergency Services (KIES) with which SAA has an agreement for Disaster Management and Recovery.    ENDS   

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