EWING, NJ -- An "aircraft landed hard and long." That was the emergency scenario posed to aviation and government representatives as well as more than a dozen agencies that took part in Trenton-Mercer Airport’s (TTN) full-scale emergency exercise on November 19. 

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the exercise was conducted mostly virtually via Zoom video conference and partly on the airfield rather than as a full in-person exercise.

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said that the successful practice has left Mercer County better prepared for a real emergency. Led by Airport Manager Melinda Montgomery, A.A.E, representatives of various agencies and offices participated in the handling of the “incident.”

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“It was essential to keep participants safe in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also meeting Federal Aviation Administration requirements. This was an innovative and exciting way to accomplish those things,” Hughes said.

A full-scale exercise is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration to be held once every three years to measure the level of preparedness of first responders and to allow the agencies that will respond to a true emergency to train together in a single venue. Numerous aviation, law enforcement, Fire and Emergency Management Services, and other Mercer County agencies participated in the full-scale emergency exercise.

“Every agency at every level, from the local fire department to the FBI, has to be on the same page should a major disaster occur in Mercer County,” said Hughes. “That requires taking a regional approach to preparedness, coordination and response, which is what was done for this exercise.” 

The non-virtual part of the exercise was the immediate response to the scene by firefighting units, law enforcement and emergency medical services (EMS). 

The simulated exercise purported to involve a popular fly route operated by Frontier Airlines between Orlando, Florida and Trenton, New Jersey.  The alleged accident resulted in 28 initial victims that included "walking wounded" who needed medical attention from fast-responding ambulance and EMTs.

Much of the 90-minute exercise took place in two Zoom meeting rooms.

The first of which established a command post involving the TTN fire department and other firefighting units, EMS, Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement and security agencies, airport operations and aviation organizations. Command post participants handled aspects of the simulation such as response, access to the scene, airport closures, scene security, resource coordination, HazMat containment, recovery and restoration.

The second Zoom meeting room began about 30 minutes after the first, and established and emergency operations center (EOC) and joint information center (JIC), which were combined for this exercise. Participants included Mercer County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Mercer County administration,

Mercer County public information officer, airport manager, fire, EMS, law enforcement, air carrier and aviation organizations. EOC and JIC participants handled aspects of the simulation such as information sharing, creating a unified message for the media, air carrier response, aviation investigation/release, establishing a location for media to gather, accommodating friends and family, and meeting passenger needs.

Airport staff and other participants in the exercise will now evaluate the response and use information gained to improve or revise, if necessary, the Airport Emergency Plan and emergency procedures. 

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