SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Emergency crews were on scene and chatter cluttered the airwaves. The injured lie stunned and weary amidst pieces of airplane wreckage.
It would be a terrifying scene, were it real. Fortunately, the scene at Santa Fe Municipal Airport, Saturday, was only a test.
“Test our plans and policies, procedures that we have in place, validate them, make sure they’re accurate, then give the first responders an opportunity to come out and practice with real people,” Santa Fe Emergency Management Director David Silver explained.
Silver says he and others spent more than six months planning for the exercise. The FAA requires it every three years for airports to maintain certification.
Silver says the exercise is invaluable for ensuring the right plans are in place, but emergency responders say it also gives them a chance to practice keeping their cool in chaos.
“If you see burning planes and lots of injured people, it gets you excited, and we have to manage those emotions,” said Santa Fe Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg.
Litzenberg says not everything has to go as planned for an exercise to be effective. In fact, coordinators say delayed response times are to be expected.
“It’s not overly concerning because we need to know our plan is safe,” said Litzenberg. “We’d rather have them discover the failures now, in practice, than when this incident finally happens, God forbid it does.”
He says they’re polishing procedure to give passengers peace of mind.
“Then we can tell the citizens and visitors that they can safely fly in and out of the airport,” Litzenberg said.
Organizers say exercises often take longer than the real thing because evaluators can critique along the way.