Emergency Workers Put to Test at D/FW

A row of ambulances awaits the signal to enter a mock crash scene Tuesday during a disaster drill at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

They lay in the grass for more than an hour, soaked in fake blood, moaning for help as rescuers sorted through the mess.

Nearly 300 volunteers played injured airplane passengers Tuesday during a mock disaster at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. The drill, which is conducted every three years, is required by the FAA to demonstrate that 911 responders are prepared in case a plane goes down.

"We want to create in our responders a sense that they've already been there," D/FW Fire Chief Alan Black said.

This time there was double trouble.

The scenario: The pilot of a plane returning to the United States from Angola reports engine trouble to air traffic controllers. On top of that, some of the 272 passengers are complaining of symptoms of a highly contagious virus.

The plane crash-lands and catches fire. Many passengers die, but others survive and lie bleeding in a field. Still others are walking wounded.

Rescuers must sort through the bruised bodies and separate those with the disease -- Marburg hemorrhagic fever -- from the other injured. That's tricky because the disease, like the plane crash, causes severe bleeding.

Fourteen out-of-town observers were on hand to critique the exercise. They debriefed the participants at the end of the five-hour drill and will issue a report in the next few weeks.

"They misdiagnosed me," said volunteer Robert Johnson of Euless, who wore makeup that simulated a gaping head wound.

At an improvised triage site, a worker finally noticed that Johnson had mistakenly been given a body tag that read "delayed."

"I should have been taken immediately," he said, pointing to the false injury. "But overall they're doing a good job. It's hard work."

It's not likely that a disease outbreak and a crash landing would occur simultaneously, but it is possible. And that's the point, said Dr. William Smock from the University of Louisville Health Science Center, who dreamed up the story line.

"Infectious disease is something out there worldwide that we have to be prepared for, whether it's an accident or a terrorism incident," he said.

It's timely, too. Nearly 400 cases of the Marburg virus were reported in Angola last month, according to the World Health Organization.

Back home, the drill at D/FW involved about 1,000 people, including police, paramedics and other people from several dozen agencies and hospitals.

Airport officials set fire to a giant simulated aircraft at a training ground on the west side of the airport, then watched as firefighters put it out.

Some volunteers playing crash victims got a ride in a CareFlite helicopter ambulance. Others went through a makeshift detox center.


Also at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport:

Airport officials are scheduled Thursday to announce a partnership with the Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas to exhibit four works at the new Terminal D, which opens early next month. The works are to be displayed in a garden setting under the canopies at the arrivals area.

About 6 p.m. Monday, the airport dedicates the opening of Terminal D with a historic first collaboration of the Dallas and Fort Worth symphony orchestras. An ensemble of 46 members from each orchestra will perform works by American composer Aaron Copland and Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo under Fort Worth director Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Dallas director Andrew Litton will conduct Gershwin's An American in Paris.