Drill puts responders to test at Walla Walla Regional Airport

A mock plane crash last week kept local emergency services workers busy.

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WALLA WALLA -- A disaster drills go, this one went off like clockwork.

An emergency exercise at Walla Walla Regional Airport last Monday gave emergency responders a chance to test their mettle. The scenario called for an airplane with 30 passengers crashing and, just for good measure, the craft was carrying a hazardous material.

"It went really, really well," said Gay Ernst, county emergency management director. The initial call went out at 9 a.m. and within two minutes the airport's aircraft rescue and firefighting truck was putting down foam on the tarmac in front of the airport's old terminal building, which was the site of the exercise.

Minutes later, firefighters from Fire District 4 and Fire District 8 along with Walla Walla Fire Department ambulances arrived to provide additional firefighting help, treat victims and deal with the hazardous material (in this case, dry ice.) In all, more than 100 people were involved in the exercise, Ernst said.

Meanwhile, in the airport terminal another 10 people acting as family members waiting for the flight to arrive tried to get out on the tarmac, testing the abilities of the Transportation Security Administration and county sheriff's deputies to control the situation there.

Also taking part in the exercise were state Rep. Terry Nealey and Jay Winter, county personnel manager, who was acting the part of a county commissioner, Ernst said.

Jennifer Skoglund, airport manager, said the Federal Administration Agency requires a full-scale disaster drill such as Monday's be done every three years to test local responders. During the exercise, the emergency workers were being watched and graded by evaluators, who report their findings to the FAA.

"We had good participation and their (emergency workers') response was excellent," Skoglund said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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