A “Rocky Airlines” flight inbound from Panama City landed on Runway 9 on the morning of May 14, 2022. Upon landing, the B-737 blew a tire and veered off the runway into an adjacent active construction area. The accident resulted in multiple injuries to passengers and construction workers.
This was the training scenario that tested George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s emergency responders in the 2022 IAH’s Triennial Exercise. With construction ongoing at different sections of the airfield at IAH, the exercise was set up to mimic a plausible real-life full-scale emergency.
An Embraer 145 provided by CommutAir posed as the B-737 and was positioned on Runway 9 in the location where the exercise took place, over 270 participants assisted Houston Airports for the real-world emergency: 65 victims, 50 airline passengers and crew and 15 construction workers. These volunteers from Lone Star College, Kingwood High school and Flatiron construction were instrumental in achieving the exercise objectives, each one had a specific role to play to test the abilities and reactions of the first responders.
The airport closed Runway 9 for the 3-hour period where airport emergency crews and partners from multiple agencies put their emergency plans and procedures to the test. A full-scale exercise like this one is designed to strengthen the relations and collaboration between all the agencies and staff involved in a potential aircraft accident at the airport.
“This is a crucial time for all emergency stakeholders to put their critical responses to the test,” said Frank Ciaccio, Emergency Management Director at Houston Airports. “From on-site incident management, setting up a unified command structure and assessing the communication capabilities, each aspect of an emergency response is practiced during the triennial exercise. It is the perfect learning environment for emergency responders.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required exercise brought together personnel from Houston Airports’ emergency management, operations, security, infrastructure, terminal management and communications teams to respond to this exercise as they would in a real-world scenario. Another fundamental aspect of the exercise was the close coordination and collaboration with emergency crews from airport stakeholders including HPD, HFD, FBI, CBP, TSA, OEM, FAA, Frontier Airlines, Atascocita Fire Department, Aldine Fire Department and HPD Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association. The triennial exercise follows guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The training scenario at IAH also included Frontier Airlines IAH personnel, who volunteered at the “crash” site and assisted as the airline response team in the Airport Emergency Operations Center during the training event. Additionally, FlatIron Inc., a construction company, and not a usual participant in a large-scale training exercise like the triennial exercise, was invited to be involved in the program.
“We wanted to create a plausible emergency that could potentially happen at our airfield and by including FlatIron, which is currently the contractor working on the airfield construction projects, we got that extra element that truly elevated the exercise and pushed our emergency crews to a new level of preparedness.” said Ciaccio.