Airport, agencies team for full-scale disaster drill

Posted 4/15/11

All levels of emergency responders are making sure they are ready for a unified response to a potential disaster. Training exercises that include …

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Airport, agencies team for full-scale disaster drill


All levels of emergency responders are making sure they are ready for a unified response to a potential disaster.

Training exercises that include dozens of agencies will be conducted nationwide April 20, but the largest will be at Centennial Airport.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Eastern Colorado Health Care System and community partners will conduct a full-scale Federal Coordinating Center exercise at 8 a.m. April 20 at the Signature Flight Support Hangar at Centennial Airport.

The exercise will be a major test of the National Disaster Medical System, and will triage, treat and transport more than 200 “patients” to 15 metro-area hospitals via 15 ground ambulances and 10 helicopters in less than six hours.

Robert Olislagers, director of Centennial Airport, said various scenarios will put the National Information Management System to the test. He urged the public to not be alarmed at the high level of activity at the airport.

Officials are preparing for a large-scale disaster after witnessing devastating situations throughout the world.

“In light of the tragedy that is still unfolding in Japan, people want to know how the U.S. is preparing for a major, national disaster,” said Roger Rewerts, coordinator of the Federal Coordinating Center. “This exercise is an example of local, regional and federal efforts to promote a unified response to large-scale incidents. Our objectives include enhancing capacity, building sustainment and creating surge for receiving medical facilities.”

The exercise will include the set-up and operation of the FCC Command Center, aircraft arrival and departure of more than 200 patients, medical triage of patients and the aircraft and ambulance evacuation of the patients from Centennial Airport to local area medical facilities. In total, more than 300 individuals from 20 community agencies will participate in the exercise.

Earlier this month, Centennial Airport partnered with agencies such as the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Aviation Administration to test the Denver Interagency Continuity Exercise, which enables first responders to coordinate effectively during an emergency.

An FCC is managed by the Department of Homeland Security NDMS and may be activated in times of federally declared national or international emergencies to coordinate definitive medical care of evacuees from the emergency area to the FCC’s assigned area.

The Denver VA Medical Center FCC, as part of that system, could potentially receive and process hundreds of patients from anywhere in the world. The NDMS solicits and organizes community support services, enrolls non-federal local hospitals and coordinates community hospital bed availability.

The most recent activation of the FCC system involved the Tampa and Atlanta VA Medical Facilities to support the evacuees from Haiti following the earthquake in January 2010.

The agencies involved include: Arapahoe County IMT, South Metro Fire Rescue, METCOM Incident Dispatch Team, Centennial Airport, Signature Flight Support, RTD, Action Care Ambulance, Inc, AMR, Rural Metro Ambulance Service, Tri-State Care Flight, Air Life, Colorado National Guard, Wyoming National Guard AES 187th, Rotors of The Rockies, Larkspur EMS, Franktown EMS, Castle Rock EMS, Elizabeth EMS, Cunningham Fire, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment EPRD, Marathon Medical, Inc., Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Civil Air Patrol, American Red Cross, VISN 19 and VHA OEM, Sky Ridge Medical Center, Littleton Adventist Hospital, Parker Adventist Hospital, Platte Valley Medical Center, Presbyterian/St Luke’s Medical Center, Longmont United Hospital, Medical Center of The Rockies, St Anthony Central Hospital, St Anthony North Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Exempla Lutheran Hospital, Medical Center of Aurora, North Suburban Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center and University of Colorado Hospital.

The exercise includes a highly active flight line with helicopters lifting and landing in a fast-paced environment. A C-130 will arrive and stage with volunteer patients. Blackhawk helicopters equipped for patient evacuation will arrive and depart. Air traffic at the airport will not be affected during the exercise, Olislagers said.

Federal Coordinating Centers recruit hospitals and maintain local non-federal hospital participation in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Disaster Medical System, coordinate exercise development and emergency plans with participating hospitals and other local authorities in order to develop patient reception, transportation, and communication plans. During system activation, the FCC coordinates the reception and distribution of patients being evacuated to the area. There are a total of 72 Federal Coordinating Centers: 32 are controlled by the U.S. Department of Defense and 40 are controlled by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 37 Colorado medical facilities have registered for participation with the NDMS.

Accredited hospitals, usually over 100 beds in size and located in large U.S. metropolitan areas, are encouraged to enter into a voluntary agreement with NDMS. Hospitals agree to commit a number of their acute care beds, subject to availability, for NDMS patients. Because this is a completely voluntary program, hospitals may, upon activation of the system, provide more or fewer beds than the number committed in the agreement.

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