COLLEGE STATION – TEEX’s Emergency Operations Training Center in College Station was transformed last month into Newark Liberty International Airport, where two simulated explosions, one on an aircraft and another at the entrance to Terminal B, had killed or injured passengers and crippled airport operations. The 50-plus participants from The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the airport, airlines, and several New Jersey police, fire and EMS agencies responded as if it were a real incident. Earlier in the month, a full-scale exercise at the New Jersey Marine Terminal nearby mirrored a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) discovered in Times Square.
“When we plan these out, we relate them to real events. The realistic scenarios make the learning curve higher,” said Jim Munday, Senior Manager of Emergency Readiness for The Port Authority of NY & NJ Office of Emergency Management. “All of the scenarios are challenging, and they are events that can happen on our terrain. The New York/New Jersey region knows it’s going to happen again; we just don’t know when. We are trying to train so we are better prepared.”
The training at the EOTC also solidifies the teams of responders who will work together in an actual incident, Munday added. “These teams will all come together, and they have already worked as a team to respond to an incident..so they know each other already.”
At the EOTC, in addition to the Incident Command Post, an airport emergency operations center was set up in a nearby room, led by Rich Hammer, Deputy Chief of Aeronautical Operations. The airport officials were in touch with the ICP and charged with making decisions about closing the airport, relocating passengers, and other issues.
“I’ve learned so much from being here,” Hammer said. “They know how to take you out of your comfort zone and give you a baptism by fire. My head is pounding; it’s like real world. I’m working with the people I would work with in a real airport emergency. This works well.” In the fall, The Port Authority plans to hold a full-scale exercise based on the same scenario, Hammer and Munday reported.
Munday has managed The Port Authority preparedness training and worked with TEEX on about 10 exercises over the past four years, but it was his first time at the EOTC. “I knew this was outstanding training,” he said. “Participants tell me it’s superb and the most challenging training they’ve ever had. Everyone learns something. After this, they are ready to go back and perform the full-scale exercise on their own turf.”
He said the “building block” training and exercise model developed jointly by TEEX and The Port Authority and funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant has “worked out tremendously” and is serving as a model for other organizations. The relationships built with TEEX’s National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center have streamlined the process, he said, and another important aspect that has made the concept so successful is that two TEEX employees have offices at The Port Authority and serve as liaisons between the two organizations.