Interconnecting Through ARFF

July 6, 2006
At Boston, planning, collaboration, and training are helping to set a new standard.

EAST BOSTON, MA - Each day at Logan International Airport begins with roll call and then an airport community meeting known simply as 'the 8:30.' According to Chief Robert Donahue of the Massachusetts Port Authority Fire Rescue Department, this is simply one of the ways the airport and all of its systems are working to harmonize operations, safety, and security. The 8:30 allows all the "systems" at the airport to gather, review the operations of the previous 24 hours, and prepare for the next 24. "The Donahue, who has served as a firefighter for some 25 years and the last 2-1/2 years as chief of the Massport Fire Rescue Department at Logan Airport, says that another benefit of these meetings is "we all know each other on a firstname basis. If someone's got a problem or an issue with the fire department, pick up the phone and call me, or you're going to see me tomorrow."

The airport's efforts in terms of collaboration and community, both internally and externally, are setting a new industry standard. "In all my years with the NTSB, I have never seen an airport so proactive to engage a community," says John Goglia, former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. "It's refreshing to see airport-led community proactiveness. [Logan] is so far out in front with family assistance and community outreach, they need binoculars to see number two."

Boston Logan sees some 1,200 aircraft movements and 100,000 to 120,000 passengers each day. A sixth runway is scheduled to open this year and passenger projections, according to Donahue, show capacity increasing. "There's a direct correlation between emergency activity and x-number of million passengers," he says. In 2005, the department delivered on some 3,800 emergencies, which breaks down to ten to 12 calls each day; 60 percent of those are emergency medical calls.

Some 100 individuals serve on the Boston Logan Fire & Rescue Department at three rescue stations located around the airfield. The department has 18 emergency response vehicles and vessels (boats).

Because of Boston Logan's location in Boston Harbor, when the airport holds a training exercise, it includes landside, airside, and water aspects.

"Comprehensive emergency management starts with prevention," says Donahue. "The drills and multi-agency exercises that we do here far exceed the minimum regulatory requirements."

Structure Change Leads to a Change in Thinking

The role and responsibility of the fire rescue chief at the airport have changed "dramatically" since 9/11, says Donahue, from "just being a fire chief to being an architect and a mechanic of systems."

Thomas Kinton, aviation director for Boston Logan and acting Massport CEO, changed the organizational structure at the airport, elevating the police and fire chiefs to his senior staff. "Historically," says Donahue, "police and fire services were buried down in many layers of the organization. And [yet], airport managers and directors quickly say, ‘safety and security are the most important things to me.' It is, but yet, we're going to stick you down here."

The benefit and value with the new structure, says Donahue, is that it causes him to "think way out of the box - not just look at my area of responsibility." This helps Donahue identify strategies and ways that he and his staff can better understand and support the mission and functions of the airport, he says.

For example, Donahue says, "We understand that we're an O&D (origination and destination) airport and that has a profound impact on emergency planning."

Some 85 percent of the traffic through Boston Logan is O&D, meaning that family assistance planning is critical to Donahue and his staff. "If you're a hub airport, you're not going to be confronted with families in the early stages of an event; but, at an O&D airport, you are. We're dealing with the families, the meeters, and the greeters moments after a crisis." Boston Logan has plans in place to service, protect, and meet the needs of people before other agencies, including the airlines, Red Cross, and National Transportation Safety Board can arrive. "We've surveyed our airlines and found that that could be 10, 12, 18 hours. I'm talking about a critical time gap where these people need to be serviced."

Donahue's relationship with the aviation director allows him to better understand growth projections in terms of flight operations and the number of passengers, including peak operations time periods. This helps his staff develop strategies based on the time of day and capacity estimates. "As my boss and the planners talk about growth and capacity, to me that translates to casualty profiles. It helps me determine what types of resources we need."

Perhaps most important, Donahue says, is recognizing the strategic and economic significance of the airport to the region and the state. BOS generates some $8 billion to the New England economy; because of that, it's important to keep "this economic engine firing on all cylinders," he says.

To again emphasize the importance of fire rescue services at the airport, before Boston Logan embarked on its $4.4 billion modernization project, it was important to Kinton, according to Donahue, that the airport's emergency services be positioned for the future by upgrading the infrastructure to the tune of some $24 million. Then the airport was rebuilt around the emergency services system. "Because, according to Kinton," says Donahue, "safety and security have been moved from being priorities to being part of the value system. Priorities can change with business agendas and business plans. But you can't change values."

When the response facilities were constructed, Donahue says it "wasn't just about throwing up some brick and mortar. We actually did test responses, did computer modeling."

The Return: Interoperability

He goes further to say that the airport director and emergency services need to be in synch with each other, what he calls "synchronized preparedness." Airport administration must view the fire and rescue services as a critical component to the airport infrastructure that requires investment to maintain.

Boston Logan's fire and emergency services operating budget is some $11 million, while its capital budget is some $1 million. "Massport invests a lot of money in this," says Donahue. "Kinton is a businessman, and I know from being exposed to him and his agenda and challenges, I'm very in tune to the issues of profit and loss, airline profitability and sustainability - they're critical. So we try to figure out in all our strategies, can there or should there be a return on this investment? And we think there is."

That return is not easily measured in numbers. Comparing previous years, Donahue can show that incidents are down in regard to the airport's ramp safety program. More importantly, however, is how well the system functions during an incident - the interoperability of the system. "Interoperability isn't just communications," he says, "it's human factors. So when we have a security breach at the terminal, how well that's managed, how quickly it's managed, and how quickly it's mitigated, to me, that's a huge measure of the effectiveness of these safety and training programs we're conducting."

Collaboration, On- and Off-Airport

Boston Logan is home to more than 50 air carriers, as well as tenants, employees, and federal agencies. In the event of any emergency at the airport, from a cardiac arrest to a multi-agency response incident, everybody at the airport has to be "truly on the same page so that there is one plan of action," Donahue says. For this to happen, there needs to be extensive training and education of the airport community, including all of its entities, as well as local, state, and federal agencies in the greater Boston area and throughout Massachusetts. "If they're not at the airport, get them there," he says. "Don't wait for them to knock on your door; you pick up the phone and you make the call."

Donahue says that the airport has experienced "unprecedented" levels of collaboration with airport stakeholders, and is now pushing that into the private sector with some of Boston's major corporate groups, and the medical and education communities. "Whatever goes on at the airport has a profound impact on them, their business, their people, so they too need to be at our table planning."

According to Donahue, the airport has worked over the years to build what it calls a truly high-performance response system. Every year, multi-agency emergency response training exercises are performed; under Part 139, the FAA requires that they be performed every three years. Boston Logan finds the annual exercises beneficial for the efficiency and performance of the system. "We have a very diverse response group," he explains. "Some of these agencies have a lot of turnover. We can't, and we won't assume that they know how this system works. It's our responsibility to get everybody to the same level."

Instilling what Donahue calls "systems thinking" into all airport employees is key to the safety and security of the airport environment. "Everybody gets hired here, they put on the uniform, they're going to get their respective training, and then you put them on the line to work. There's nothing that causes or creates a systems thinking, so that you understand that you become part of the system when you put on that uniform and you are critical to the function and the purpose of this economic engine that we're all servicing."

Rather than reinvent the wheel, says Donahue, his staff implemented a pre-established and proven model in the aviation industry, CRM (crew resource management), as well as Community Oriented Policing (a nationwide program to reduce crime), which centers around the principles of partnerships, problem-solving, and prevention. "If we can develop the partnerships at every level, and you can forge this level of collaboration, and you can view yourself as a problem-solver, you can prevent things from happening," he explains.

One example of this is the deployment of 80 public access AEDs (automated external defibrillators) as part of an aggressive first aid "Life Saver Program." The target audience for the training: the 18,000 people that work at the airport. In the last several years, says Donahue, the airport has trained some 8,000 to 9,000 employees on the use of the devices. While the fire and emergency response department already has an established three-minute response time rate, the AEDs were placed throughout the terminal at 90-second response intervals. Employees are trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). As a result, Boston Logan has the highest cardiac survival rate in Massachusetts.

This program also includes extensive outreach to Boston's medical and academic communities to make them aware that this technology is available at the airport. Public address announcements within the terminal also alert travelers to their presence.

Airfield Safety Program

An airside safety program has also been implemented at the airport. The group is a cross-section of the service systems on the ramp, including the refuelers, airline technicians, police, fire, operations, catering companies, and general ramp workers, and meets on a monthly basis. Some of the things that have grown out of this collaboration include the fire department developing a training program to augment what each party might be doing separately, which, again, contributes to systems thinking so that everyone "sees the airport in the same way," Donahue says.

The group has also established standards and best practices for operating on the ramp at Boston Logan. Explains Donahue, "FedEx might be doing something that might be the best practice that maybe JetBlue or Delta Air Lines didn't think about. It's a great information exchange." Most recently, the working group brought airfield lighting issues to the table and as a result, a study was launched and those issues were corrected.

Joint enforcement is another one of the group's responsibilities. "We make it very clear to them upfront that we will help them proactively, and hopefully, you're going to get it," Donahue says. "But if you don't get it, or can't get it, then there is a joint enforcement effort of the airport rules and regulations. There's a task force that's put together at unannounced and regular intervals where we team somebody from the fire department, the state police, and airport operations, and we blitz the ramp." And, where there are violations occurring, those offenders are ticketed. "All you have to do is buy into the program and do the right thing," adds Donahue. "You're a stakeholder; you make your living here."

In 2006, Boston Logan saw a 50 percent reduction in motor vehicle accidents on the ramp, and a 20 percent drop in the number of fuel spills. A self-inspection program of fire regulations has been developed for all the tenants.

Within the dynamic airport environment, threats are constantly changing and Donahue and his staff must be continually prepared to handle these changes. Terminal crisis management is a good example of this, he says. "Five or ten years ago, the only threat in the terminal was a fire." Today, threats are often much more complicated and can involve many more people. Boston Logan has developed a security plan for the terminal which involves compartmentalization of sections of the terminal and a three-step course of action.

For example, if a fire alarm goes off, airport employees are trained to assess a situation. If there's no smoke or visible fire, people are held in place. "They know the fire department is responding - it's an automatic system, so we're coming," he says. "If there's no immediate threat to life safety, we don't want to disrupt operations." Donahue says that the delicate balance between life safety and the economic impact on the airport is always central to decisionmaking. "Nothing compromises life safety; but, always in the back of our minds is how you balance it."

The second step is to relocate people from one compartment of safety to the next in a progressive and horizontal fashion - the preferred path being back to the street. The third step in the process, if necessary, is evacuation.

The airport also has mechanisms in place where LEOs (law enforcement officers) and public information personnel are sweeping the terminal to ensure safety. This process also involves extensive training, coordination, testing, and drills for all airport stakeholders.

Learning From Incidents

Training and continuing education are high priority to Donahue and his staff. When there is an incident at another airport that they think they can learn from, a team is sent out from Boston Logan to analyze the incident and apply the airport's plans, procedures, and environment to that incident. "Every time something happens in this industry, that truly is an opportunity to learn. And we don't miss an opportunity to learn, to really drill down and analyze these things."

The "Go Team," as it is known, is comprised of firefighters, state police, and airport operations. Those involved at the incident airport can share aspects of their emergency plans that went right and what they might have done differently, explains Donahue. "And that might translate into a procedural change or maybe a new piece of equipment."

Based on what the Go Team learns, the incident is transformed into a training module and provided to the airport's emergency system, including off-airport. "It's been a great learning tool for us," says Donahue. "You find out what the issues are; you find out where the holes and gaps may be as it would relate to your operation."

Beyond the training, Donahue says a module of the incident is also created and taken to the airport's board of directors. "We hit them right in the eye with what we would view as the critical issues that we learned from that accident," he says. "It has helped us raise their levels of awareness and an understanding of the things that we would be confronted with if that particular accident happened at Logan Airport."

The information is shared with other airports, including those in Donahue's peer group of other Index E airports. The fire rescue chiefs hold monthly conference calls to discuss issues facing their facilities, as well as share ideas and conduct benchmark surveys. Recently, Donahue completed a benchmark survey on the initial emergency response profile of his peer airports, including analyzing staffing levels and equipment. "I'm working on a risk-based staffing plan of my own," says Donahue. "Sometimes it helps if you can show some sort of comparison on where we stand with other airports."