Dozens of agencies participate, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs, airlines, the fire department, first responders from all local jurisdictions, and various law enforcement organizations. During the exercises, Dacey and his team are on hand to provide strategic guidance but do not take over tactical duties. Participants must make decisions and take action themselves.
The exercises take place in the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Incident Management Center (IMC). The IMC receives video from the 3,000 cameras operated by O’Hare and nearby Chicago Midway International Airport. With video and voice conferencing to all major stakeholders, the team can deal with emergency scenarios completely from the IMC, which holds 50 people. Seats are numbered and correspond to certain disciplines. “This allows us to cluster similar functions together,” says Dacey.
The IMC is also in communication with the airport’s Joint Information Center, where public information officers are located, and with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which handles emergency dispatch between the public and first responders.
Seven exercises were planned for 2013, with some already having been carried out at press time. For example, a disaster scenario involving a crashed airplane was conducted in May. Dacey explains that the airport conducts training involving an airline every three years. This helps the airlines but also assists the Chicago Fire Department, which is required to periodically conduct a full-scale exercise where the airline is the victim. In the May scenario, an incoming flight by Iberia Airlines was said to have crashed landed on a roadway as it was coming in to O’Hare; it broke into pieces. “It’s a response effort for us and an airline crash for them,” explains Dacey.
Dacey tries to alter the type of incident when he does scenarios involving airlines so that there are new lessons each time. For example, the last such scenario was with British Airways and involved an explosion at the terminal gate. “We try to mix it up so it’s not predictable,” says Dacey.
After the British Airways scenario, Iberia Airlines requested that Dacey conduct an exercise with them. Because the airline has a small presence at O’Hare and is headquartered in Spain, local airline personnel wanted to be prepared should an emergency occur. The exercise involved 69 people from 34 organizations. The focus was on testing about eight of the 37 core capabilities FEMA has identified as important for stakeholders to have during an emergency. Among the issues focused on were alert and dispatch. “This involves how we get the word that there is an accident,” he says. “The notification can come from anywhere. Maybe the communications center receives word and dispatches first responders.”