Luckily, the risk of serious incident involving an aircraft is extremely low, but in order for the emergency services to prepare for the worst case scenario, there is only one real option available, for them to simulate, in advance, a situation that would require them to act as if it were a real, life or death, situation.
That is what is currently being planned surrounding Alicante-Elche airport this autumn, in November, as the Emergency Response and Security Agency is preparing for a large-scale simulation of a multi-victim air crash that will take place outside the Alicante-Elche airport complex with the participation of a hundred extras and will test the protocols of the competent bodies in matters of security and emergency response.
The Director General of the Agency, José María Ángel, explained that “we are committed to the culture of the simulacrum, since it is of vital importance to test the safety and emergency protocols with the main objective of detecting faults, to calibrate the possible deficiencies and to rectify, based on the experience of the implementation of the simulacrum, both by us as coordinators, and by other agencies that can find in this exercise an opportunity to exercise their specific plans in those aspects that are considered most necessary”.
The Valencian regional agency of security and response to emergencies organises a large-scale simulacrum like this every year in each of the Valencian provinces. Last year, a metro crash simulation involving several vehicles with fatalities and injuries was carried out in the Valencian town of Paterna.
With respect to the Alicante drill, the Emergency Response and Security Agency has convened the first preparatory meeting in which a first draft of the work has been submitted to the participating agencies.
Among the attendants were representatives of the municipalities of Alicante and Elche; Subdelegation of the Government of Alicante, Guardia Civil Guard, National Police, Emergency Military Unit, Alicante-Elche Airport, Provincial Fire Consortium of Alicante, Conselleria of Sanitat Universal and Public Health, Autonomous Police of the Generalitat, Directorate of the Institute of Legal Medicine, Forest Firefighters of the Generalitat, Comunidad Valencian Red Cross, DYA Elche and Psycho-Emergencies Association Comunitat Valenciana.
According to José María Ángel, the simulacrum will recreate a serious commercial plane accident with multiple victims in the surroundings of the Alicante-Elche airport based on the following sequence of events:
The apparatus, with 100 passengers on board plus the crew, is ready to land and falls to the rugged ground about 4 kilometres from the runway. Then, after the initial impact, the plane splits in two, giving rise to two scenarios more or less close together (one in the municipal area of Santa Pola and the other in Elche). There are a large number of injured and deceased, and also numerous relatives of passengers waiting in the airport terminal.
The Emergency Coordination Centre of the Generalitat assesses the situation and activates the Territorial Emergency Plan of the Region of Valencia, Emergency Situation 2, and constitutes two Advanced Command Posts (one in each scenario), while mobilising the Basic Units. Also in the first moments, a Family Care Centre is set up at the airport, which will later be transferred to another location yet to be determined.
As it is a simulation with multiple victims, it is foreseen that it will require the participation of a hundred of extras, formed mostly of students of nursing and of the modules of emergency services, who will act like injured passengers and relatives of the wounded and deceased. Forty mannequins will also allow emergency and health agencies to test their protocols of action.
Finally, being that the incident involves a commercial aircraft with passengers of different nationalities, it is planned to contact the British and Swiss consulates in Alicante, with the aim of collaborating in the implementation of protocols of action of identification of victims and wounded, and care for family members.
Finally, as the plan draws closer, road closures and restricted zones will be planned, with diversions put in place, but as always in this sort of situation, dramatic though it might be to consider becoming an observer and watching the action unfold, the best course of action during the simulation will be to stay well clear and allow the emergency services to practice what we all hope will never happen in reality.