The Scenario Unfolds
The full-scale exercise involved more than 400 participants. The fictional scenario unfolded at approximately 0730 hours EST. French authorities notified the Transportation Security Administration of a security breach in Terminal 1 at DeGaulle Airport in Paris. French authorities confirmed knives and clubs passed through the screening checkpoint. The screener recalls cylindrical-shaped sticks with coils and wires. TSA and Customs and Border Protection identified five persons of interest on a no-fly list on a United Airlines flight from DeGaulle to Chicago O’Hare.
United Airlines flight #9073, a B-767 with 150 passengers and crew, an actual flight, departed Boston with a two-hour flight plan over the Atlantic. After departure, the flight was notified by airline operations of a security breach at DeGaulle Airport. The aircraft reported normal status. During the flight, hijackers, played by Federal Air Marshals, took over the cabin. Flight #9073 activated the hijack transponder, notifying the FAA and United Operations in Chicago. Boston Air Traffic Control notified Boston Logan Communications Center of a diversion involving a hijack.
The North American Air Defense Command System in Colorado directed the Northeast Air Defense System in Massachusetts to scramble two F-15s and intercept/escort United #9073 to Boston.
Upon landing, the aircraft was handed off by the F-15s to “Logan Command.” An aircraft emergency discreet frequency was used as the aircraft was parked in an “all-hazard” remote parking area. Through the emergency discreet frequency, the pilot was brought into a unified command organization in the development of an incident action plan.
In addition to the pilot, the unified command organization involved Massachusetts State Police, Fire/EMS, airport operations, and the FBI. Control zones were established around the airplane and around the airport. Police and fire special operations teams deployed. During hostage negotiations, the perpetrators made threats and demands for the release of Richard Reid. Shortly after, a passenger was executed and thrown out of the plane, followed by an explosion and fire on board the aircraft. Law enforcement special teams assaulted the aircraft and subdued the hijackers. More than 90 ambulances and seven hospitals participated in the response.
- Reach out to all crisis management stakeholders to include special operations teams, e.g., EOD, SWAT, as well as representatives at all levels of government. Meet and know each other before a crisis. An incident scene is no place to be exchanging business cards.
- Build intelligence information systems, both vertically and horizontally. Boston Logan now conducts a daily airport community operational and security briefing, so that all stakeholders not only know each other, but get the same real-time information, threats, etc., from the FBI, the Massachusetts Joint Terrorism Task Force, and TSA directives.
- Review and/or build a local, regional, and federal notification network to ensure effective and timely notifications to response partners and elected officials.
- Integrate all public and private emergency operations centers. An incident at any airport extends far beyond the airport boundary, and will involve multiple airports (origin/destination); airlines; regional and federal partners.
- Partner with local air traffic control and build a discreet emergency frequency. Work with airlines to explore viability of the aircraft communication addressing and reporting system (ACARS).
- Conduct joint special operations teams — fire/hazmat, police, EOD, SWAT, underwater recovery — and develop training modules in aircraft familiarization: terminology, access, hazards. All emergency responders must be aware of aircraft ‘least risk’ bomb locations (LRBL).
- Preplan with the airport operator to identify witness interview areas (in the event of a criminal act) which have sufficient capacity, security, and amenities. Needs in this area include at least a comfort station: passenger information, snacks, medical, aspirins, diapers, etc.
Airports across the US have historically held emergency response excercises but Operation Atlas at Boston's Logan Airport is, to date, the largest drill of its kind, explains John Goglia.