Disaster drill puts emergency crews to the test

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It's something first responders prepare for, but hope they never face. There was a simulated mass casualty disaster at Gulfport-Biloxi International airport Wednesday morning.

The emergency response escalated quickly as emergency partners were called-in for support. The scenario involved an incoming plane striking a building, then bursting into flames.

While firefighters worked to put out the fire, EMS crews face dozens of wounded passengers.

"Get with Alex and start triaging," shouted one of the responders, as they discovered dozens of bodies and "walking wounded."

"He's missing a leg, come on," screamed one dazed passenger, who appeared to be missing most of his hand.

The airport is required to hold such drills several times a year to test readiness and capabilities.

"You want them to start toting and staging," asked one of the responders.

"It tests all of our mutual aid capabilities. Bring in numerous agencies, following our plan and make sure just to reinforce everything that we do," said airport Operations Manager, Richard Rushing.

"Where it gets complicated is that it is a mass casualty incident. We've got 80 plus victims out here, and it's just controlling that and doing that and doing triage and moving people out from there," said Rushing.

In the midst of it all, it looks and sounds a bit like organized chaos. First responders have a plan for handling such disasters and do their best to stick to it.

"You react with your training, and you try to keep emotions out of it. It's hard to do, though," said incident commander, Russell Shoultz. "It's a great example of teamwork. This drill is invaluable in terms of not only testing our emergency response plans, but also the community teamwork with all the different partners."

"Ocean Springs and Singing River have been advised we have an emergency," the AMR commander told firefighters.

They'll have a thorough post-exercise evaluation, but early reviews give the responders high marks.

About ten agencies in all took part in the disaster drill, from police and fire, to AMR and the Air National Guard.

"So far, so good. There's things we learned to work on and address, but nothing major," said Rushing.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.