Anything can happen when there are thousands of spectators attending a large event. With over 150,000 spectators expected to attend the 2016 MCAS Cherry Point Air Show, planning and preparations began months prior to the event. In preparation for the Air Show, numerous exercises were conducted. Air Show staff were guided through several table top exercises, communications exercises and a full scale mass casualty exercise.
After the initial viewing of the webcast, Mr. James Riemer, Director of Operations, MCAS Cherry Point, and Air Show Director, recommended the webcast be shown for the entire Air Show staff and highly recommended that staff join the association in order to participate in future webcasts. That being said, I joined the IPSA as a Member in order to be part of an organization that unites all public safety groups.
Mass casualty training and exercising are important when planning mass gatherings because emergencies can happen at any time. In an effort to understand how others have dealt with Air Crash mass casualty events and through the assistance of Ms. Heather Cotter, Executive Director, International Public Safety Association (IPSA), the MCAS Cherry Point Operations staff was able to review the Reno Air Races: Responding to "A Plane in the Stands" webcast.
Many webcasts have since been viewed; however the Reno Race webinar provided our staff the opportunity to see how other agencies operate and it reinforced how important it is to collaborate with outside agencies. Our participants saw further evidence that pre-planning for events of this magnitude is important in order to define roles and responsibilities, identify and properly deploy resources, and to discuss contingency plans with our partnering agencies.
Although we have our Pre-Air Show Mishap Plans and an All Hazards Plan that includes Mass Casualty Incidents; the Reno Air Race webcast provided our staff valuable information regarding Emergency Evacuation on a large scale. Prior to viewing the webcast, Ms. Cotter provided contact information and introduced our staff to Mr. Kevin Romero, Director, Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority and the Reno Race guest presenter. Mr. Romero was very helpful in providing additional information and planning tools and flow charts.
After reviewing the webcast and discussing the Reno Race Mass Evacuation Plan, our staff met with local police and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol to discuss our Emergency Mass Evacuation Plan. Our Evacuation Plan was reviewed and roles and responsibilities defined. We discussed egress routes for emergency and non-emergency traffic, the importance of which was clearly stated during the Reno Race webcast.
Fortunately, we were untested by a major mishap during our Air Show. However, an unanticipated record number of visitors to the Air Show on the second day of the event created a 10-mile gridlock on eastbound Hwy US 70, the only major traffic corridor through the local area. This resulted in the potential for significant problems in the event of a major mishap.
In retrospect, we realized that we had not sufficiently discussed mass gathering ingress during our planning meetings. We are now re-writing our plans to include ingress and egress, as MCAS Cherry Point relies on one of eastern North Carolina’s major east-west highways (US 70). With our closest Trauma Center located approximately 112 miles to the west, and our closest hospitals 20 miles in either direction (east and west) on US 70, the main artery to and from our base is a four-lane highway that we cannot afford to have closed in either direction. We believe lessons learned from the Reno Air Race seminar will continue to help us mitigate future traffic challenges for emergencies … or for perfect Air Show days.
Story by Etta Lucas, Installation Emergency Manager, Mission Assurance, MCAS Cherry Point