By Wesley Long
Over the last several years there has been heightened security concerns regarding the potential use of setting wildfires as a weapon to be wielded by terrorist. This keeps popping up in intelligence circles and is a rather innovative approach to cause disruption and chaos that is both a low tech and financially viable source for terrorism. Does your airport use space within a wildfire zone? Near one? Even if you don’t, you can still be impacted in negative ways through the suffering of your community, through air quality, and even visibility issues associated with the inability to take off or land.
Complex, coordinated attacks are perhaps the most recent disturbing terrorist acts that must be considered because of the sheer drain on you and your community’s emergency response resource pool. Your airport’s size of resources it has do not matter. During the first few moments of a complex, coordinated attack, your entire support structure is behind the curve and may never catch up. This is because we don’t staff or fund our organizations to be able to respond to synchronized attacks of two or more events lead by incredibly funded and organized groups that operate in a semi-independent fashion. It is simply not a viable way in which to fund or train our response agencies. Transportation sectors could very well be on the list of targets during tomorrow’s complex, coordinated attacks and have been in the past.
If this is the case, it is imperative that you understand that help may not immediately be on the way, or if it is, it may be limited. This is a great reason to establish stakeholder, tenant, and employee buy-in regarding bleeding control training, run hide fight, CPR, and other quick and effective life saving techniques. The first line of response and defense in a situation of this nature is yourself and those around you at the time of impact. Some tragic examples I am sure you may remember are: Benghazi, 2012; Paris, 2015; and Brussels, 2016.
Tactical and Strategic Solutions to Maintain Operational Control of Your Airport
There are many opportunities for your organization to handle a negative situation from start to finish until the word terrorism is spoken. At that point you will find it difficult to maintain operational control as the response mechanism, recovery process, and investigation is inundated with massive complexity and confusion. Some larger airports may have failsafes in place, but that is not the case for everyone. Ways to ensure you are at least able to be involved in as much of the decision-making processes as possible in an effort to get your airport back up and running include communications and partnerships with the local office of emergency services or other agency of similar nature and responsibility. Maintaining positive relationships with agencies that you will find on your incident scene should be handled upfront and regularly—not as tragedy unfolds.
It is said that innovation is the mother of invention. I quote the Oxford Dictionary when I say, “When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it.” That is how I look at the invention of a rescue task force. Across the world, terrorism and active shooter/hostile threat events, have created an environment where the need to reach the victim is so great that teams of EMS personnel are putting their lives on the line to make entry into dangerous zones with law enforcement. Some of you may enjoy the luxury of having SWAT teams, scores of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Personnel, and plenty of fire-medics. Some of you may not. Some of you may have even already have established rescue task force teams, but if you do not, I implore you to look closely at the idea.
In the United States, the concept is still somewhat fresh and new, although it is gaining momentum. The Federal Emergency Management Agency does a great job teaching new concepts in the utilization of this resource as the need for it, unfortunately, grows by the year. My airport is in a small, rural area, and even we have begun using this concept. In the event of anything happening or an active shooter/hostile event nature in our facilities, I have a team that will be able to render aid at the earliest possible moment. You may ask if the response of a strike force with and a strike force without a rescue task force is quantifiable in terms of patient survivability? Yes—data exist regarding the positive utilization of a rescue task force over a combat or tactical medic that show exponential differences.
Simpler innovation exists in the context of communications as well. Making sure your emergency operations center, your communications center, and/or local emergency dispatch center understand how to prioritize calls and incidents during an attack is a great way to best manage and allocate resources to the most needed locations or events. The public has a reasonable expectation of service if one of these events were to happen, and it is up to us to ensure we do everything within our power to provide that service. Being apathetic toward innovation is, in itself, complacency.
Aging Infrastructure and Apathy Toward Disaster
What does aging infrastructure have to do with apathy towards disaster? The Airports Council International (ACI) reports that airports in North America alone have at least $100 billion in infrastructure needs in the next 22 years in an effort to keep up with industry demands for cargo operations and passenger enplanements. Is aging infrastructure a good thing? Well, it’s inevitable to a point. As we develop newer and smarter building technologies, aging infrastructure may become something very rarely dealt with, but growth will continue to be something we need to consider from time to time. So too will currently unknown threats or weather-related issues. I think aging infrastructure is a good thing because it gives us the opportunity to recreate our environment with safer features, implement new and improved ideas, and develop stronger resilience to current threats.
I have broken apathy towards disaster into three main components.
- Putting too much emphasis on combining programs. difficult for lower-budget, smaller airports but is seen everywhere to some extent, e.g. operations, ARFF, law enforcement, and more. We must understand what it takes to be excellent at ONE thing and what these particular programs need for training, certification, maintenance, and capability. We must take responsibility as an industry to want to offer excellent service in each of our departments and understand that it can’t happen by shoehorning multiple high-intensity programs into the same department (or it rarely does).
- Doing more with less. Most budgetary constraints in some airports force this issue. The difference between airport categorization is absolutely staggering. From your largest airports with their own police forces, antidrug teams, fire response, and more, to much smaller airports that are forced to train their janitorial staff in ARFF once a year for a couple of hours and look solely to mutual aid for law enforcement support. This IS
- Doing less with more. I have seen a large response to an aircraft disaster with incredible resources, for example, that performed poorly when held against the same response from a much smaller and nimbler emergency crew with the right training. Just because you may not lack in resources does not mean that is all there is to success at disaster or terrorist events. Physical resources are not the only answer—they can be tools that can be very easily hid behind to ensure that a deficit in training, dedication, or readiness is not observed by others until actually called upon. Is this the case everywhere? Absolutely not, but this is truly an issue to be mindful of. The difficulty we face industry wide is to find balance with resource availability and human resource
All of these things lead to an apathy toward disaster. If you are struggling with funding a rescue task force, for example but have been told that if such an event would occur then THAT’S when you would be given the funding for it, then your administration is suffering from apathy. If you are part of an effort to rehab a portion of your aging infrastructure and are not allowed to implement a shooter detection system or vehicle barriers, then that is once again apathy. Budget constraints are always an issue, but if you think back to my brief discussion on risk assessment and risk management at the beginning of this series, it’s easy to understand that when you are identifying your vulnerabilities, it is imperative to consider terrorism, and it is advisable to implement mitigation potential in that assessment. It is also a good idea to align your systems capabilities with current innovation, technology, training, and out-of-the-box thinking. If you were to suffer a catastrophic event, you would be able to return to normal operations with more money in the bank if you spend more of that money on mitigation tactics and strategies up front—predisaster.
It is not a matter of “if” with these topics, it is a matter of “when.”
WESLEY LONG works at the Glacier Park International Airport as the fire chief, operations director and is a certified emergency manager, certified professional manager, ACE trusted agent, and Airport Security Coordinator. Prior to the 13 years he has worked at GPIA, he spent 10 years as a firefighter in the United States Air Force, spending six years in the Pacific Rim and four in Space Command.