Reagan National Airport simulates accident scene to test first responders

More than 150 people acted as injured passegers during Saturday\'s emergency exercise. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON – So soon after the Navy Yard shooting, people in the Washington metro area may have been a bit nervous to see huge crowds of emergency responders heading to Reagan National Airport Saturday morning. But this was part of a full-scale training exercise to test first responders.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that airports conduct an emergency preparedness exercise every three years.

“The purpose of today’s drill is to test what we train for all year long and for the last three years,” said Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Deputy Chief Tim Lasher.

For the large-scale drill, the scene at National Airport at times looked and felt very real. The scenario simulated an aircraft accident over the Potomac River between a helicopter and an Airbus jet carrying more than 100 passengers.

Nearly 150 volunteers acted as injured passengers, and helicopters, fire trucks and emergency responders flooded the airport after a radio call went out for the mid-air collision.

“It’s [the helicopter] going to end up in the river,” Lasher said. “The aircraft (passenger jet) is going to slide across the infield and come over here.

Deputy Chief Lasher said the scenario was closely guarded, and the element of surprise is vital when testing how first responders react in a real emergency. It was also a hand-on training opportunity for airport personnel and local hospitals and 13 surrounding fire departments, which took the mock casualties to area hospitals.

Evaluators watch the drill from every position and issue a performance report after the exercise. Lasher said the final evaluation will guide the airport in making corrections to their training standards.

Dulles International Airport conducted its drill in May.

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