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Florida Guard Airmen take part in disaster response drill at JIA

JAA MARE

Airmen from the 125th Fighter Wing?s Civil Engineering Squadron pose in front of their firetruck while taking part in the Triennial Airport Disaster Exercise held at Jacksonville International Airport (JIA) on Oct. 1, 2014. Photo by Master Sgt. Jaclyn Lyons

The Florida Air National Guard joined law enforcement and other first responders this week to test their capabilities if a major disaster happened at one of the busiest airports in the Southeast. -- Airmen from the 125th Fighter Wing's Civil Engineering Squadron took part in the Triennial Airport Disaster Exercise held at Jacksonville International Airport (JIA) on Oct. 1. Working with more than 20 other agencies, the Florida Air Guardsmen practiced their disaster procedures and responded to a simulated aircraft accident at the airport.

Supervisor of Airport Emergency Operations for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority Meaghan Smalley said the major exercise is held to evaluate the effectiveness of the airport's emergency plan, and bring together local responders who might be working with each other during an actual emergency.

Participants in the exercise included the Florida Air National Guard, the City of Jacksonville's emergency preparedness division, the Red Cross, the Duval County Health Department, and other agencies.

"The Federal Aviation Administration requires that every three years we conduct this exercise as part of our airport index to keep us in compliance," Smalley, who oversees all emergency preparedness for four airports in Jacksonville, said.

She noted that a real-life emergency like an airplane crash would draw all of the different agencies to the disaster site, and a realistic scenario is a great opportunity for first responders to work together and practice their skills.

"It's really good to keep us fresh and on our toes," she added.

The simulated aircraft crash included the presence of unknown hazardous materials, and a number of injured people who were treated at the scene and released to local hospitals.

The 125th Fighter Wing was tested on the time it took to deploy its Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) at the scene, as well as how its firefighters integrated with the civilian first responders.

The Civil Engineering Squadron's Tech. Sgt. Jeff Snyder and his team helped with the initial triage of victims from the disaster site, and they later helped move 60 "injured" individuals to ambulances.

Snyder said the variety and scope of responders participating truly made this exercise beneficial to not just his Airmen, but to the entire city of Jacksonville.

"You never know when something like this might really happen...(we) make sure everybody is trained and ready to respond," Snyder added.

Approaches like this to incident management are standardized under the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and are intended to facilitate coordination between all levels of responders to disasters - from federal government agencies like the Florida Air National Guard, to nongovernmental organizations. NIMS was developed and established by the Department of Homeland Security in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.