Emergency response crews were firing on all cylinders Thursday

Emergency response crews were firing on all cylinders Thursday

Crash Control: Kelowna’s emergency crews run a mock plane crash scenario

RCMP, ambulance, police, airport staff, animal evacuation response and UBCO got to test out their emergency response abilities Thursday

  • Sep. 14, 2012 1:00 p.m.

studentThere is blood all over Ishmael’s chest as he tumbles down the tarmac.

The fuselage of Unity Flight 123 (WestJet 132) destined for Calgary is lying to his right as two firefighters drag him along. He is telling them there are more injured passengers inside and they can be heard pounding on the walls of the airplane, trying to get out.

“We found him outside the exterior,” shouts one of the first responders heading for the triage area.

Little do they know, it’s entirely possible the 34-year-old man might be one of three later arrested for causing an explosion in flight.

They just lift him from the arms of help, lower him to the ground in the red zone marked for the seriously injured beside a fleet of ambulances.

Two girls, who wandered off slightly before emergency crews pulled in to help, are lying out of sight, one under a tree by Old Vernon Road.

There’s speculation on the sidelines as to whether the girls are heading for the port-a-potty or part of the exercise as they’ve gotten themselves so far out of the obvious crash zone it doesn’t seem plausible they will be found.

On a brilliant sunny September morning, the first nip of fall in the air, 40 different agencies have decided to set aside the real life drama of the Peachland forest fire earlier in the week and go ahead with Operation Unity.

Some 18 months in the making, the exercise simulates a major disaster, encompassing a wide range of tactical problems.

There’s a neighbourhood fuel spill, the plane crash, possible water contamination at UBCO and reports the school’s basketball team was on board the aircraft.

Ishmael is really a UBCO theatre student. Young actors arrived Wednesday evening at Ellison Heritage School Community Centre to begin having their makeup applied.

Stephanie Farrell“It’s really important the injuries look realistic because it’s what propels the first responders into action,” says Stephanie Farrell, who applied the makeup with one other artist.

Stunningly realistic, the gouges and gobs of flesh make a zombie walk look mundane.

Before the plane is emptied of occupants, a young man who is apparently missing enough flesh his jawbone seems to show, will emerge along with a suspected terrorist whose eyeball hangs from a string.

The terrorist is dragged from the plane by RCMP who threw the timeline of the day’s events off slightly by taking a few extra minutes to clear the aircraft for explosives.

“I haven’t done anything,” the suspected hijacker yells as he’s finally whisked aside, wrists zipped behind his back.

Farrell is a nurse who once ran an emergency room in England. She has a fine arts degree and seeks out new courses in this sort of graphic makeup technique every year.

“In the bad old days we would have to use plasticine and wax, which would fall off, and biological bits,” she said.

“But with high definition television and film they now have courses on how to be scrutinized up close.”

Between working in her husband’s medical practice and helping run Tactical Scenario Medical Training (Tascmet), the company who won the bid to stage this exercise, she builds latex wounds to make the scenarios as real as possible.

Every five years, the airport must conduct a live emergency response like this; but this week’s event is by far the largest to date in the Okanagan.

The Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team (CDART) was called out to assist with contaminated horses in Glenmore and set up an animal rescue at The Salvation Army as the plane supposably dumped fuel in the valley.

Environment Canada weatherman Doug Lundquist was even called upon to conjure up weather conditions to challenge the teams.

According to the scenario, after the Calgary-bound flight was hijacked by terrorists, an explosion occurred on the flight.

Passengers on the plane managed to subdued the offenders responsible, though the emergency landing that follows does not go well.

The pilot made contact with the airport and opted for an emergency landing at Kelowna’s airport, YLW, dumping a streak of fuel across Glenmore in the process and potentially contaminating water on the university grounds. He then crashes just off the runway.

YLWUBCO’s call centre immediate kicks into action, fielding queries from concerned parents and students and, at some point, a tweet suggests the plane may be carrying the school’s basketball team.

Unfortunately, neither the school, the regional district’s emergency operations centre nor the airport’s emergency operations room will ever get confirmation of the passenger manifest and everyone is left to cope with what’s known.

By mid-morning, members of the school’s emergence response team are talking about how to get enough water for the student body, keeping the students away from potentially harmful environmental irritants and how research scientists will deal with water quality concerns that might affect scientific experiments on fish in coming days.

Shannon Dunn, who regularly manages the student residents but also heads the UBCO emergency response team, is also talking over counselling logistics to deal with the eventuality that the basketball players, or other students, are on board.

School staff and Emergency Social Services head to the hospital and ESS works with WestJet on contingencies to meet families of victims.

One of the things an exercise like this helps sort out is communication and information flow.

Passenger manifests held by the airline can become a dickering point, for example, because of privacy legislation.

By the end of the final press conference, the only word on who the passengers are is from the police.

Three suspects have been arrested. But there’s never official word on how the plane was hijacked, what blew up, whether this was a terrorist attack or the nationality or political affiliations of those in custody.

“Most of these people are going to deal with an emergency scenario in their career and I guarantee you it will go smoother because of what they’ve learned today,” says Jason Brolund, Assistant Fire Chief for the City of Kelowna Fire Department and one of the organizers for the event.

Everyone involved, right down to Central Okanagan Regional District information officer Bruce Smith, is in the dark on some portion of the day’s events.

As a large group gathers at UBCO at the conclusion of the exercise, some of the scenario’s details are flushed out over lunch.

At 7:30 a.m., for example, as news crews began rolling into the staging area, Smith was just as surprised as reporters to find three CF-18 fighter jets barrelling down the adjacent runway. He figured they were part of the exercise.

In the end it turned out they were there on a totally unrelated training event. Tascmet team member Gloria Richardson says a terrorist attack would usually require a call to the North American Aerospace Defense Command anyway and NORAD would scramble jets.

Thursday morning’s appearance was just pure luck for an event that started out the week in jeopardy.

Just as the jets fell into formation, so too did the carefully planned disaster.

By the end of the day every crash victim was accounted for, though their identity never revealed.

Kelowna Capital News