Sourav Chakraborty / Experience Columbus
One of the many clubs at The Ohio State University is the Aviation Management Organization (AMO), a student chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE). In short, Ohio State’s AMO provides “members interested in any aspect of aviation with the resources and industry access to build a professional bridge between college and the aviation workforce. AMO frequently hosts guest speakers, airport and aviation facility tours, conferences, networking opportunities and other social events.”
So far this semester, we have brought in three guest speakers, toured CMH from the inside out, visited Beta Technologies’ Flight Simulation & Military Sales Office in Springfield, Ohio, and, on September 28, a new and unique experience: partaking in a crash simulation.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires airports to conduct a mass casualty incident training session every three years to ensure the facility can respond appropriately. September 28, 2023, was John Glenn Columbus International Airport’s training date. Franklin County Citizen Corps was responsible for this year’s simulation, and 165 volunteers were requested (15 moulage artists, 110 air crash casualties, and 40 family/friend role players).
A missed opportunity would be not signing up, so I did just that: I registered to be an air crash casualty.
If you are not a morning person (like me), waking up sucks. Yet, if I am getting up for anything related to aviation, sleep goes right out the window.
Through AMO, we coordinated a group ride to CMH. At 6:20 a.m., I worked my way through campus to the northwestern end to meet a buddy who offered to drive. Off to the airport, we went.
One of the things I love about Columbus is how it was developed. The airport is at most 20 minutes from campus and is a stunning drive at sunrise. Off the highway and a couple of local roads later, we were at FlightSafety International, just off to the southeast of Runway 28L’s displaced threshold.
Check-in commenced at 7:15 a.m., as scheduled, and was very simple: cross your name off a list. Surprisingly, no ID verification was required, nor were any security measures in place (e.g., security wands, metal detectors, etc.).
Following check-in, each individual was handed a six-page card. These cards contained information such as the character you were to portray, any injuries, and ultimately your fate. I was Angelica Applepie, a 29-year-old female. Given the script on my card, I figured Angelica partook in a police training exercise at one point. Despite that, my injuries were the same: unresponsive and a laceration on my scalp.
Post check-in, there was another line, this one for the makeup. The stations were set up inside the hangar. All makeup and distinguishing features (e.g., shrapnel, deformed limbs, etc.) were added based on the character and their role in the accident.
Around 9 O’clock, Christopher Pollock, the Senior Manager for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority (CRAA), gathered the group and broke down the scenario: a minivan ran through the airport’s perimeter fencing, striking an aircraft, resulting in a fire.
The order of the operation was as follows:
- The airport’s aircraft and firefighting team (ARFF) would be dispatched to arrive no more than three minutes from the call.
- The victims would disperse onto the airfield within our designated location.
- Paramedics would arrive and evaluate all victims.
- The simulation would be paused for transport to the hospital before each fire department on site resumed training.
The rest of the time was spent waiting in the hangar.
At 9:37 a.m., Truck 403 comes in hot, and in record time. Two minutes later, the air casualty victims are instructed to scatter, as explained by Mr. Pollock. Being the problematic human I am, I made it challenging for the response team and chose to go to the end of the area.
Within the red is where the victims were permitted to occupy. The green “X” denotes the accident site. The blue “X” denotes my location.
Twenty minutes in, and at 9:57 a.m. I was tended to. A quick evaluation (“Sir, sir, are you okay?” and a check for a pulse) took place before I was declared dead. An investigator walking alongside the paramedic placed a card next to me.
In a genuine emergency, the deceased is covered with a yellow tarp, and an evidence marker is placed in immediate proximity. While this aspect was not replicated since those of us who had fatal injuries were not actually dead, and needed to get to the hospital to be treated like we were, the drill was paused for our transportation. This was done after the survivors were rescued and treated like a real emergency. No ambulances were destined for a hospital, and their purpose was solely to test the EMT’s response time and the on-site evaluation.
In a group of approximately 20, I was bussed from CMH to the Ohio State University Hospital (OSU Main). Other participants were bussed to Ohio State East Hospital (OSU East), and two others that I cannot recall the names of.
We left at 10:46 a.m.
We arrived at the hospital at 11:15 a.m. It was messy. The forecasted rain had begun, and the hospital was still open, so patients were flowing in left and right.
Not too long after arriving—maybe 10 minutes—we were escorted to the emergency room entrance. A black and yellow tarp-like structure was being set up. We learned this is a decontaminant station. Its primary purpose in a plane crash is to decontaminate individuals exposed to jet fuel.
Although less complicated (no tent and doctors), a similar operation at the crash site exists. It consists of a pressure regulator connected to the truck to rinse survivors off.
After a bit of waiting, one of the operation facilitators guided us into a cancer research building near the ER entrance. Allegedly, the hospital was not ready for us yet. This was likely due to the high capacity the hospital was already facing. Admittedly, this is concerning, as if there were an actual mass casualty event, the hospital has to be prepared. However, since this was a staged incident, real-world traumas took priority, and the triage would be the same now versus later.
Starting around 11:45 a.m., the victims were released to the hospital one by one. The order was random and based on the numbers assigned to the character played.
I was called in around 12:15 a.m., tagged, put on a gurney, and rapidly wheeled into a triage room (unfortunately, as the nurses and doctors were actively evaluating me as a genuine patient, I could not get any photos in there).
Honestly, I was shocked at the methods and ideology used during triage. While I was dead in the eyes of the paramedic who briefly examined me following the accident, I was not clinically dead. I had a severe laceration to my parietal ridge (front left of the head), hemorrhaging, a faint pulse, and low oxygen levels, but I was alive.
The medical students argued that despite being tagged grey (expected to die), I had signs of life and a possibility of survival, so I should be sent to the operating room. The doctors, however, insisted I was a “lost cause.” The arguments lasted for a solid five minutes, all of which was time that could have been used to save my life.
The purpose of the drill was to use any and all equipment available as if it were an actual situation, but what I saw was far from that. I’d like to believe there would be no fighting in circumstances like this, and the victim would be treated until it was clear they would not make it. Others who partook in the triage had similar experiences.
Around 12:45 a.m., following triage, I was set free and instructed to return to the cancer research center to reconvene with the rest of the victims.
The drill had one more task: sending two more victims in, requiring a visit to the operating room. Dying once wasn’t enough for me, I guess, so I volunteered.
My new persona was a 22-year-old male with a broken right ankle that required emergency surgery.
After some more waiting (a solid half-hour, at least), I was finally taken care of. I expected to be placed on a gurney, or at the very least, a wheelchair, but no. I was told to walk. Sure, this was not a problem since I was not truly hurt, but the whole situation lacked realism, which, I remind you, was the entire point.
Anyway, some elevators later, I was brought to the seventh floor. I may not be Ivy League material, but I can read, so I was astonished to see I was taken to the hospice floor. The nurse with me checked with the front desk to locate my chart, but nothing was there. Go figure. It’s probably because hospice is not the operating room.
By this point, I had been there for over 45 minutes, and our bus needed to return to the airport. However, the hospital required this scenario to be completed in its entirety, so I was brought to a room on the hospice floor and evaluated, albeit insufficiently (with respect to the procedure required in emergency surgery situations).
I was then escorted back to the cancer research center to gather with the group.
This was, by far, one of the coolest experiences I’ve participated in. Besides being on an active airport in an emergency, it was mind-blowing to see how many factors are in play and how quickly (and slowly) response times are.
That said, I am not entirely confident in this hospital’s ability to handle a mass casualty. I acknowledge that the hospital was running under extreme pressure (97% capacity), but a plane crash could happen anytime without regard to any condition. The coordinator even stated that the hospital performed sub-par. The good news is that is what these mock situations are for, and emergency response plans will be revised to become more efficient.
All in all, this was a remarkable day, and I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had so far. I anticipate attending Rickenbacker International Airport’s crash exercise in early 2024.
An air crash casualty with a severe third-degree burn.
Truck 403 responding.
Victims released onto the airfield.
Other victims (note those in the grass and around the jet blast deflectors).
Local departments begin to arrive to assist.
Simulation paused while the “dead” were escorted off the field (note the mannequins, which were used for rescue during the fire).
On-site triage and survivor gathering.
I would be remiss if I did not extend my gratitude to all medical staff in all locations. I witnessed real emergencies while at the hospital, and I could feel the stress level in the air. Healthcare workers are indeed heroes without capes.
Also, you may have noticed I included different times to denote how fast responses and various scenarios were. Can we be thankful photos have timestamps? Genius.
I appreciate your time and hope this was as much of an enjoyable read as the involvement was for me.