Emergency Preparedness

September 2003

September 2003 Keeping ground support workers safe is a top priority, but what happens if an emergency occurs? Are you prepared? Keeping your company safe is about having a plan in place and being ready, writes Alicia Hammond

No matter how closely rules and regulations are followed, accidents and emergency situations are bound to happen to workers on the ramp. The best way to deal with this type of situation is to be prepared.

This idea may sound obvious but, according to Arizona-based MedAire's CEO and former flight nurse Joan Sullivan Garrett, having a practiced, constantly updated, well-communicated plan is your best chance of efficiently taking care of an emergency and possibly saving a life.

"First aid is not always a part of training, but it is extremely important that everyone understands what to do when an emergency happens. It is not good enough to have an accident and then kind of create it as you go," Garrett says.

There is no standard plan for emergencies, all airports are different and devise their own plans based on their surroundings, capabilities, and resources. What is right for a large international airport may not be right for a smaller regional airports.

Another problem concerns who is responsible for training and devising a plan. The FAA is responsible for aircraft operations and the activities that occur on the runway, however, when you are talking about workplace safety OSHA is usually the regulator.

"It is not only confusing to the industry at large, I think it is very confusing when it gets down to the individual worker," says Garrett. "There are emergency practices or emergency responses, but most of these are for an aircraft accidents and injuries involved in that event. When it comes to workplace safety and ramp handlers, the wing walkers, and the people servicing the aircraft, that is where it comes under either the airport or the company itself, of whether they have an emergency response plan."

Following OSHA's rules means the employer is responsible for supplying an emergency plan and making sure workers understand that plan. Many workers simply assume that a plan is set up in case of an emergency.

"I don't think employers at airports or other companies deliberately overlook this. I think that it is believed that there are resources in place at airports and that if you call the emergency numbers then XYZ will happen. I think that assumption is not always played out in time," Garrett says.

While many larger international airports do have emergency plans set in place, many smaller regional airports do not. In larger airports there is usually on-airport emergency response capabilities in the form of a fire department specifically for that airport. However, smaller airports do not have such a luxury and often have to rely upon a local emergency response center, which may not be as efficient or knowledgeable about the airport property.

"I would venture to say that a [system] is not usually in place," offers Garrett. "I don't think we have gone to the next level of work safety when it comes to having AEDs [Automated External Defibrillators] available and having the staff trained to know where they are, how to operate them, and if somebody has a heart attack on the runway in or around the airport property, are they really prepared?"

To make sure that you have a safe and efficient plan in place it is best to look at it and see if it is practical, see if people understand it, and see if it works. Garrett says a plan needs to be broken down. You must consider the possibilities of potential accidents and emergency situations.

She recommends looking at what types of activities are performed at the airport, what do the employees do, and what types of services are performed. Also, look back and see what has gone wrong in the past and what was done in response.

"In my mind you can't have a blanket checklist of what every airport should have in place. Now how that plan is grilled down to the individuals that work at that airport and who they work for it is the responsibility of their employers to make sure the two are coordinated," Garrett says.

Garrett created MedAire because she saw a lack of proper safety in the aviation world on many levels. Now MedAire helps many companies provide a safe working environment for its employees through education, safety equipment, and designing individual emergency plans as well as many other activities.

"We're very focused on processes, procedures, and planning," Garrett says.

After a plan is created, it is important to practice and keep it current. Continuing to talk about the plan is key to keeping it fresh and employees well versed on it.

"Ongoing education is also very important, it is not just about having a plan on the shelf but about revisiting it, revisiting it, revisiting it, and updating and upgrading and really doing good cause analysis when an emergency occurs. Never assume. Make sure employees understand the airport plan but also how the plan impacts them," she says.

Although most employees and employers would like to skip accidents all together, this is a reality for all who work on the ramp. Keeping safe is very important but when something happens it is best to be prepared and ready to act.

"Injuries happen. We train to keep them from happening, but people are people, mistakes happen and injuries occur," Garrett says. "Our priority should be to save lives and to be able to understand who is going to do what."


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