Kelowna airport carries out disaster exercise

Operation Collaborate tests preparedness of emergency responders to deal with mock accident at airport.

Mock aircraft accident scene was played out Thursday morning at Kelowna International Airport.

“Exercise. Exercise. Bomb threat at the Kelowna airport. Bomb threat at the Kelowna airport.”

With those words broadcast around the city just before 9 a.m. Thursday, a safety preparedness exercise of explosive proportions was launched behind the airport.

“Operation Collaborate” brought BC Ambulance, Kelowna, Lake Country and Ellison fire departments, emergency health services and UBC Okanagan together to fight a common foe, an imaginary “disgruntled passenger.”

Working in tandem they dealt with smoke, fire and actors playing hostages, a corpse and the aforementioned problematic passenger.

“The scenario started with a disgruntled passenger, then there’s a security component and it escalated from that security component to smoke coming from the airplane,” said Sam Samaddar, airport director, explaining the scene presented to reporters who had gathered to watch the exercise.

“There’s an internal threat component, which is part of the exercise and there will be a fire component as the smoke builds into something much bigger.”

Basically a passenger starts revealing himself as a threat, people are injured, the plane is shipped over an isolation area where a fire lights up the sky and firefighters knock it down. Someone dies, although nobody was told from what.

It was very dramatic, and highlighted how well equipped the city is to contain an airport threat quickly and efficiently.

“We don’t want to contaminate the rest of the populations or bring a threat to other aircraft coming or arriving,” said Samaddar, who noted that much of the event was built from fragments of real world incidents.

While the exercise was built on foreign scenarios,  Kelowna isn’t immune to issues of this kind.

Samaddar pointed out it was just a couple of years ago when they were the recipients of a bomb threat.

“That was a real incident where an individual, because he was late for his airplane, decided to call in a bomb threat,” he said.

“We didn’t know who the individual was, but we activated our emergency procedures plan and contacted the RCMP.”

Typically with these kinds of incidents, Samaddar said, you don’t actually find out the person behind it, but in this case the airport was up and running within three hours of the threat.

“Through our systems — our closed circuit TV, our telephone logging devices — we were able to track and apprehend that individual.”

When all was said and done, Samaddar said the event went well, although a debriefing to get a real grasp on department performance was set to happen after news crews departed.

These large scale emergency exercises are conducted every four years to test YLW’s airport emergency response plan.