First-responders armed with as much emergency gear as they could carry hurried to San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday morning, as soon as the call came in that a plane had gone down and injured nearly 100 passengers.
Though the scene vibrated with the urgency of a life-or-death situation, the plane was an ancient Boeing 727 parked on an airport taxiway, the “fire” was a series of smoke bombs and the “passengers” were Terra Nova High School students participating in a drill to test just how prepared the airport and surrounding fire and emergency personnel are for a real-life crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial airports to conduct such full-scale drills every three years, but SFO performs the drill annually.
More than 20 agencies participated in the effort, including several local fire departments, the California Highway Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, among others expected to make haste to the airport in the event of such a catastrophe.
Communication remains one of the biggest challenges in coordinating emergency response, because several of the responding agencies communicate on different radio frequencies.
This is especially prevalent on the Peninsula, which has a host of shared fire and emergency response agencies between cities, Millbrae fire Division Chief Ron Lavezzo said.
Capt. Dave Sullivan, with the San Francisco Fire Department’s SFO bureau, agreed that communication remains an issue.
But Bay Area police, fire and transit agencies are expected to communicate on a single frequency soon, according to a new plan unveiled this week by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.