Emergency Planning: Communication failure amid San Antonio airport threat”

Thursday, August 9, 2012 Analysis: Communication failure amid airport threat By Eva Ruth Moravec The San Antonio (TX) News-Express Agencies responding to a recent bomb threat at the San Antonio International Airport failed to communicate with one another while trying to evacuate 2,000 people and search for possible explosives, according to an analysis of fire, police and airport operations done Wednesday. While the trouble didn't impact operations much, it posed a challenge for command staff, San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood said. "Fire had no problem talking to fire; police had no problem talking to police; airport was talking to airport," he said, "but making sure our command staff was communicating wasn't thought about until later in the game." In their formal review of the Aug. 1 emergency, the three agencies found they had no place to put 2,000 evacuees when there were simultaneous threats to the terminals and the parking garage. They also could have used some megaphones that day, because stranded travelers couldn't hear evacuation instructions coming through the airport speakers. A man had called the airport twice, first to say that he left his luggage there and it was going to explode, and later to say that he'd planted three bombs in a garage. Nothing was found. Although the bomb threat call was dispatched on a mutual-aid channel that all responding agencies could access, the channel's frequency wasn't relayed to those who needed it. "We weren't on the same channel, which obviously impedes immediate communication to the units that are on the scene," San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus said. "That did not negatively impact the operation this time around, but it could, in the future, if we were not to correct it." Security enforcement officers, who work for the airport and were assisting with the evacuation, don't all have radios. "A lot of our staff was using cellphones. Some of our people were on radios, and some were not," said Aviation Director Frank Miller. "That was an issue." "It's an easy fix. We'll identify who needs radios, get them, and make sure they all know what channel to be on," he said. Overall, though, officials said the emergency became a much-needed training exercise. "It's turning into a learning tool for all three agencies to improve unified command," Hood said. Miller said the airport staff had a plan but found it was lacking in some ways went tested in a worst-case scenario. "One of the challenges was that one of the main places they utilize for evacuation is the parking garage, and there was a bomb threat there," Hood said. Because the terminals and the garage had to be evacuated, hundreds of people were loaded onto VIA buses that circled the facility while others remained on planes parked on the tarmac. Two shelters were being set up, but by the time they were ready for evacuees the threat was over. Hood said officials are looking for another site, like a hangar, for evacuees in a similar situation. Moving hordes of travelers was also difficult, Miller said. While the airport's public announcement system was working, instructions were hard to hear, especially outside of the buildings. Miller said staff will be given megaphones, and restaurant and shop employees who didn't know how to help will be given job assignments. The confusion led to some people being evacuated more than once, officials said, including Linda Nealon, a retired schoolteacher who was in the terminal waiting to pick up a friend. "We always, at the beginning of the school year, went over crisis plan and evacuation plan, and it was very clear and very practiced, everyone knew what to do," Nealon said. "But with these people, it was helter skelter." On Monday, a man who sounded like the airport bomb threat caller made another threat, claiming there were explosives at the downtown Sheraton Gunter Hotel. Police found nothing, and the caller, who would face federal charges, remains at large. "We have a lot of information on him, and we are continuing to pursue that information," McManus said. Do you have an opinion about this story? Share it with other readers in our CAA Discussion Forums imailsrv and place only the following in the first line of the body of the message: Subscribe airport YourFirstName YourLastName YourJobTitle YourAirport/Company To unsubscribe from the Airport News List, send an email, from the email account you have been receiving your posts on, addressed to imailsrv 

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