Emergency response exercise at Pago Pago Int’l Airport
Pago Pago International Airport “met its objectives” during its triennial emergency response exercise, which is a Federal Aviation Administration certification requirement to test airfield preparedness and response in a simulated airplane crash at the airport, according to the FAA Public Affairs Office in Los Angeles.
Held last Friday, the exercise involved several government and private sector entities and 149 Tafuna High School student volunteers, who played the role of passengers. The exercise included a fire suppression drill.
Responding to Samoa News request for comments on the outcome of the exercise, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said Wednesday that Pago Pago airport “met its objectives for Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting, Mutual Aid Coordination, Victim Accountability, Victim Transport, Communications, Logistics Staging and Access Control in accordance with its Airport Emergency Plan and Federal Aviation Regulation Part 139, which is the commercial airport regulation.”
“FAA airport safety inspectors who observed the exercise believed the response went very well with a strong sense of urgency and with personnel safety being paramount throughout the exercise,” Gregor said via email from Los Angeles.
On Monday this week, Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, sent out an email letter to all those entities that participated in the exercise thanking them for their “overwhelming support of a very exciting and successful triennial exercise...”
“It was a learning experience for the Port staff and for all the government agencies that will be required to respond during an emergency,” she said and expressed sincere appreciation to Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who is also the acting governor, “for being the guiding force throughout the past week.”
“This perhaps was the first formal exercise of the new administration to test the abilities of the ‘first responders’ should there ever be a disaster in our territory,” she wrote. “The positive result of the exercise is that EOC (Emergency Operations Center) will be ready to activate during an emergency. All went well and we believe that the outcome will be favorable.”
Taimalelagi told Samoa News yesterday that once every three years the Pago Pago International Airport is required to exercise its ability to respond to emergency situations.
“The triennial exercise allows the airport and first response agencies to evaluate our emergency response systems, techniques, capabilities and communication networks as they relate to a major aircraft incident,” she said. “The Airport has been planning this exercise for the past year.”
She explained the exercise, which occurred on Feb. 28th. The "planned" emergency was that at 9a.m. “the pilot of an aircraft would call in and inform us that the landing gears were inoperable”. At 9:30 a.m the aircraft would attempt to land and thus the emergency response.
However on the day of the exercise, “there was such a high level of excitement from all responders that several agencies responded before the anticipated emergency,” she said. So by 8a.m. Lemanu observed DPS vehicles and fire trucks passing through Utulei on their way to the airport, she said.
EMS, Health Department and Red Cross were outside of the airport gates of the site anxious to respond. “The entire exercise was conducted with much anxiety and real-life emotion,” she explained. “The firefighters suppressed the fire within 3 minutes. The students that role played the passengers were awesome.”
The communication system was coordinated by a team from Port Administration, FAA and ASTCA, who worked diligently for two weeks to ensure the the handset radios were operable. She said communication that day - from the airport, fire station, EOC, EMS and LBJ “was great”.
Taimalelagi also said that another “very important” action took place that day which was not part of the planned exercise. The action was initiated by Lemanu, who is now the Governor’s Authorized Representative, or GAR.
“At the conclusion of our exercise when we thought it was over, the Acting Governor did an ‘inject’. What it was, was that they called from EOC and said there was an oil spill from the aircraft on the runway and in the ocean,” she said. “This was not planned but could really happen during an aircraft crash. The FAA representative was surprised.”
She said that FAA official, Juan Reyes, “watched how our fire fighters responded within 70 seconds to the site that was identified with the oil spill” and cleaned the area.
“But most important to note was that the Marine Patrol from Fagatogo were dispatched and arrived in their boats at the site.”
She commended the Marine Patrol, and said “we do have a GAR who is very knowledgeable about emergency preparedness and response.”