16:44 PM

Tampa Bay area agencies come together to sharpen mass casualty response in TPA exercise

The TPA Triennial Emergency Response exercise involved more than 30 agencies and 100 volunteers playing the role of victims, family, friends and helpers.

A plane in the waters of Tampa Bay. An initial call. The activiation of the Airport's Incident Command Center and opening of a Friends and Relatives Center. Triaging of victims and fielding media questions.

For four hours on Friday, Oct. 25, more than 30 Tampa Bay agencies and 100 volunteers participated in TPA's Triennial Emergency Response Exercise, simulating everything from response times, alert notifications, water rescue operations, interagency communications, a press briefing and the handling of distraught family members. The exercise scenario involved a fictitious airline on final approach to Tampa International Airport going into the waters of Tampa Bay and calling in an emergency, prompting a response effort to commence as if it were a real-world event.

The FAA-required exercise, spearheaded by TPA Airport Operations Manager Dave Nicewinter, tests the airport’s readiness in the event of an actual mass-casualty incident. U.S. Coast Guard personnel led the water rescue effort approximately two miles south of the Gandy Boat Ramp while several agencies from both sides of Tampa Bay tested all aspects of a response including rescue and recovery, medical triage, law enforcement and traffic control and patient tracking. More than 100 volunteers from TPA, local colleges and other organizations played the role of victims at the crash site as well as family and friends who arrived at the airport seeking information.

Evaluators were also on-site at the boat rescue area, the Gandy Boat Ramp and TPA to observe the emergency response and provide feedback on the exercise. The agencies will get together in the next few months to review the response and discuss areas for improvement.

"The feedback we receive will be incorporated into making our response efforts and plans even better, which is one of the most important outcomes of the exercise itself," said John Tiliacos, Executive Vice President of Operations and Customer Service. "We are so thankful to every member of our team who made this exercise a success."