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The Minot International Airport completed a major emergency exercise on June 12, with help from a wide variety of area agencies.
Deanna Stoddard, airport operations manager, said the Federal Aviation Administration requires the airport to complete a full-scale emergency training exercise every three years.
“It was a really successful exercise,” said Stoddard. “There were some teachable moments and some lessons that can be learned, but I’m very proud of all the work that we put into the planning process, how all the agencies came together and how everyone performed.”
The exercise scenario centered on a commercial aircraft that was set to depart Minot International Airport with 150 people on board. Late in the takeoff procedure, the pilots noticed an anomaly in aircraft performance and decided to abort the takeoff, which resulted in a runway overrun. As the aircraft traveled along, the body of the aircraft began to break apart. Sections of the aircraft wreckage were left on that path, the adjacent coulee system, and the Enbridge yard, which is located off airport grounds. The aircraft had full fuel on board and so portions of the body caught fire, along with several grass fires.
Minot Fire Department and Minot Police Department crews were on scene shortly after the simulated crash to help Community Ambulance triage injuries. The Minot Rural Fire Department was also on scene.
Airport procedures on emergency response as well as crisis communications were put to the test, Stoddard said. In addition, firefighters, police officers, ambulance crews, and emergency responders used the exercise as a test of their procedures, too.
Capt. Jake Lentz of the Minot Fire Department was one of the people in charge of the scene during the exercise. Lentz said the exercise was a valuable opportunity for firefighters to test some of their emergency response procedures.
“This is stuff that we talk about and try to plan for. We’re not necessarily going to always perform how we want to, but it’s going to show us some weaknesses and some areas that we were actually stronger in than we thought we were.”
Stoddard said the agencies involved began planning the exercise back in March.
“We had a planning committee that included some of the major organizations and players, such as the Minot Fire Department, Minot Police Department, Highway Patrol, Ward County Emergency Management, Community Ambulance, and Trinity Health,” Stoddard said. “We would all meet on a regular basis to talk through what we anticipated the disaster scenario would be and how the response would follow accordingly.”
Stoddard said this event was the first time the airport had conducted a large scale exercise that didn’t take place on a runway or other main part of the airport. Instead, the crash scenario utilized a large grassy area off the end of a runway and space on nearby Enbridge property.
“That was different, getting everyone in there,” she said. “We also had a component that was off airport property, which was the first time we’ve ever had an exercise do that, and that led to a more coordinated joint response from the different agencies.”
Stoddard said there are always lessons to be learned from conducting a large scale exercise.
“We hope to learn that we have the right procedures down. The biggest thing is testing our emergency plan. You want to make sure you’re calling the right people to communicate with, and that the folks that need to be on scene doing their jobs are there,” she said.
Two weeks after the exercise, the agencies involved took part in a meeting to discuss the exercise, something that is valuable in seeing the exercise from different perspectives.
“It’s unique to see what everybody saw from their own perspective, and how they experienced it,” she said. “There are always lessons learned.”