Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Flying Higher with Your Triennial Full-Scale Exercise

Photo by Tomas Williams on Unsplash

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that all airports conduct triennial full-scale exercises (FSEs) to test their Airport Emergency Plans if no real-world incidents occur that require the plan to be used. These exercises are vital to guaranteeing that all personnel are not only familiar with the emergency plans, but are properly trained in their duties and fully understand their assignments and responsibilities in the face of a disaster.

Rather than simply checking the box, airports should take advantage of the triennial exercise to test more than just what is required. Below, we examine “good”, “better”, and “best” approaches to executing a triennial FSE.

Good Approach: Many airports satisfy the FAA requirement by completing all the required elements. Simply meeting the requirement may be the most realistic option for airports with limited resources for conducting exercises.

Better Approach: Airports and their partners should consider leveraging the triennial FSE as an opportunity to go above and beyond and test additional capabilities that are not required within the triennial FSE. For example, airports and their partners may wish to test objectives related to public information and warning, fatality management, mass care services, intelligence and information sharing, situational awareness, or others.

Through Hagerty’s support of airport exercise efforts, we have identified seven lessons learned that should be incorporated into the immediate response activities that are tested during triennial FSEs. These include:

  1. Engaging with diverse stakeholder groups, including government agencies, airlines, service providers, management companies, non-profit organizations, and hospitals. While airports typically involve airlines and first responders in their triennial FSEs, there are many other groups that will be involved in the response to an air transit incident and should thus be included in exercises.
  2. Identifying locations, opportunities for pre-staged resources, and information flows for mass care services, operational coordination, fatality management, and public information and warning. Before an emergency happens, potential locations for a Joint Information Center, Emergency Operations Center, Passenger Gathering Area, Friends and Relatives Center, Family Assistance Center, and temporary morgues should be defined. If practical, resources such as cell phones/laptops and chargers, information-gathering forms in various languages, tables, chairs, megaphones, pens, and clipboards should be pre-staged at these locations to minimize delays in activating these vital functions. Information flows and processes should also be pre-determined to ensure key partners are kept apprised of necessary information.
  3. Preparing for family reunification – not only for single-aircraft incidents, but also multiple-aircraft and terminal-based incidents. Many airlines have locations chosen for a Passenger Gathering Area, a Friends and Relatives Center, and a Reunification Center, but those locations are not large enough to accommodate the number of people who may be involved in an incident that involves multiple airplanes or occurs in the terminal.
  4. Considering transportation management, security, and logistics. If an incident occurs on the airfield, appropriately managing vehicles and coordinating transportation is essential. If victims of an incident or their families will be taken into secure areas of the airport, there must be processes in place for getting them through security in a private and expeditious manner. Similarly, if equipment and supplies are needed to support response and recovery efforts, processes must be in place so non-profit organizations and vendors can gain access to secure areas.
  5. Assigning separate teams to handle business continuity and emergency management. In the middle of an emergency, protecting your brand is incredibly important, but this should be addressed by people who are not also responsible for conducting emergency management tasks. Leveraging corporate office or other non-local staff to support business continuity functions remotely is a great option.
  6. Incorporating accommodations for individuals with access and functional needs and for individuals with limited English proficiency. Plans must include ways to meet the needs of these individuals. This includes providing accessible vehicles and selecting accessible locations for mass care sites, creating printed materials in different languages, pre-staging assistive devices, and planning to bring in translators. In turn, exercises should test these aspects of plans.
  7. Having the capability to conduct just-in-time training for responders. Typical training and exercise efforts may guarantee some partners know how to respond, but in many cases, responders who are dispatched to an incident have a limited understanding of their roles. This applies not only to traditional first responders, but also to non-profit organization representatives, vendors, and security personnel. As a result, developing training materials to help bring these people up to speed quickly and efficiently – and having those materials ready at key response locations – is essential.

Best Approach: The best approach entails a progressive exercise series that addresses all aspects of an air transit incident – not just the immediate response – and culminates in a triennial FSE. To learn more, look for next month’s post.

Becky Brocker is the lead of Hagerty’s Air Transit Portfolio. She leverages her experience in exercise design and her background in intelligence analysis to work with a team of subject matter experts to develop thoughtful solutions to the issues airports, airlines, and their partners face. Prior to joining Hagerty, Becky served in intelligence and emergency management roles at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, and Argonne National Laboratory. To learn more about how Hagerty can help your organization, please email development@hagertyconsulting.com.