Johnson County agencies stage first mass casualty training exercise at Iowa City airport Scenario: Passenger plane making emergency crash landing

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IOWA CITY — Officials said a large scale, mass casualty training exercise at the Iowa City Municipal Airport — the first exercise of its kind at that facility — was a success.

“I would say, for the most part, this worked the way they expected,” said Dave Wilson, Johnson County’s Emergency Management Coordinator.

Wednesday’s exercise at the airport, 1801 Riverside Dr., included several dozen participants from a multitude of agencies, including the Iowa City police and fire departments, Johnson County Ambulance and medical examiner’s office, Salvation Army of Iowa City, CARE and AMT ambulance services, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Mercy Iowa City, the Iowa City VA Health Care System and Johnson County Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency. Sixteen volunteers from Kirkwood Community College’s emergency medical service program served as “victims” for the exercise.

The mass casualty/injury scenario involved a passenger plane making an emergency crash landing at the airport. It kicked off around 8 a.m. with the coordinators lighting a passenger van — standing in for the aircraft — on fire. The Kirkwood volunteers — who were sporting realistic looking injuries ranging from large wounds to missing limbs — were strewn about the runaway.

Emergency responders quickly arrived on scene with the police protecting the perimeter, firefighters extinguishing the van fire and medical personnel triaging the crash victims. The medical examiner’s office later arrived on scene to examine the victims who were “deceased.”

Wilson said the area hospitals also ran exercises in their emergency rooms to prepare for the rush of injured victims.

Iowa City Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said the area agencies don’t get to train like this very often.

“The whole purpose of (this exercise) is to test the measures we have in place,” he said. “Are we ready to respond to a major incident like this? Are there other areas we can improve on?”

And while Wednesday’s training was an aircraft crash, the tactics used aren’t limited to that exercise, Gaarde said.

“It can be applicable to a variety of scenarios,” he said.

Wilson said these types of large-scale exercises are held annually and, in the past, have taken place at Kinnick Stadium, Carver-Hawkeye Arena or private businesses. He said the Iowa City Airport commission approached them about doing training there. Wilson said the exercises take about a year to plan and this year’s exercise was in no way related to the plane crash that killed Terry Koehn, 70, and Jim Spicer, 53, in early April.

The goal of the exercise was to “shoot holes” in the agencies’ plans for responding to these kind of incidents and to see what works and what doesn’t work. Wednesday’s exercise saw a glitch with a 911 call, but no other big surprises, he said.

“I think it went about 95 percent how we expected,” he said.

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