A Lasting Impact of 9/11

On September 11, 2001 thousands of innocent people were murdered. Since that horrific day, the aviation industry, particularly at major airports, has been investing in equipment and training for ARFF response to “New Age Threats”. In the days...


9/11 and hurricanes Katrina and Rita taught emergency planners one very important lesson. They needed to stop planning based on the type of incidents expected and begin planning for the unexpected. That reality needs to be reflected in the ARFF mission statement, which forms the basis for the program, number of personnel, training, etc.

Certainly, an ARFF department’s mission will vary by size, fleet mix, and location. At a minimum, ARFF at a certificated airport must be trained, staffed, and equipped to satisfy the requirements in 14 CFR Part 139, as well as anything identified in the Airport Certification Manual (ACM)/Airport Emergency Plan (AEP). Many airports’ ARFF missions include:

  • Responding to aircraft land emergencies
  • Responding to aircraft water rescue emergencies (if applicable)
  • Providing emergency medical services (EMS)
  • Structural fires / hazardous materials’ incidents
  • Fire inspection and prevention
  • Investigations
  • Persons trapped in elevators/escalators
  • Vehicular accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Bomb incidents
  • Sabotage, hijack incidents, and other unlawful interference with operations
  • Power failure
  • Mutual aid response

Whether or not an airport chooses to add response to terrorist attacks to its Airport Emergency Plan is irrelevant. Response by the ARFF department to a terrorist attack on the airport is a given.Obviously, the call doesn’t usually come in as “Terrorist Attack in Terminal 3”. It’s more likely to be a report of a fire, explosion, strange odor, or people feeling ill.

ARFF responders without the proper equipment and training will respond to these events. The fact that they may not be trained to identify the breadth of the event into which they are walking, or not be watchful for secondary devices designed to take out emergency responders, may become a lesson learned too late.

Biochemical Threats

First responders to biological and chemical events must be trained (at a minimum) to identify, isolate, and evacuate. ARFF staffers are typically trained to work in atmospheres that are “Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health”. They use Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBAs), and are badged and have access to all secure areas of the airport. Additional training and equipment is necessary to satisfy the mission as it relates to hazardous material threats. Without qualified personnel on-airport, the lives and safety of anyone exposed is at risk.

Most airports include the responsibility for hazardous materials identified in 14 CFR Part 139 with ARFF. This requirement was intended to prepare for anticipated threats, such as fuel spills or a leaking container in an air cargo facility. Today, the level of protection must match the level of threat.

Also, the distance from the airport of any mutual aid partner(s) is now a greater consideration. Outside resources are needed more than ever; the possibility that the mutual aid team cannot promptly respond, as they may be employed on other missions, must be considered.

A common sense approach in emergency planning is to provide a level of staffing, training, and equipment to match the threat levels indentified in the airport’s risk assessment for minimally:

• initial response

• identification

• isolation and evacuation

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

It’s well known that terrorists have the capability of developing so-called “dirty bombs” or other weapons of mass destruction. A dirty bomb is a dispersal device for radioactive material, which is designed to contaminate people. An airport’s emergency response team must be trained and equipped to handle such an event, with specialized equipment and procedures in place to alert them to the presence of radioactivity and to handle mass decontamination.

Landside Fire Stations

Another proactive consideration involves the development of landside fire stations. This station would house ambulances, pumpers, structural devices, etc., to more quickly respond to a bomb attack at the front of the terminal building. ARFF apparatus committed to the airfield is sized either to satisfy the minimum requirement or to satisfy the airport’s standard. ARFF apparatus should not be committed to incidents at the terminals or other structures if flight operations are being conducted.

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