Fake eyeballs, burns at DCA staged emergency

Dangling eyeballs, second-degree burns and wailing family members were part of the drama Saturday at Reagan National Airport, as officials staged an emergency exercise designed to test airport readiness for a plane crash or other emergency.

The once-every-three-years exercise is required by the Federal Aviation Administration. More than 600 people took part, including first responders, airport employees and community volunteers. Some took the role of injured passengers, complete with bloody wounds and the aforementioned dangling eyeball.

As part of Saturday’s scenario, emergency workers had to respond to a plane crash near the historic Terminal A, as well as a water rescue along the Potomac.

I spent time inside with volunteers playing the family members of “victims.” The goal was to make the exercise as realistic as possible, so some volunteers were told to act the role of distraught loved ones. As you can see from the video, some turned in Oscar-worthy performances. On the ground to help them were members of the airport’s FAST team, an acronym for the Family Assistance Teams that are deployed when such emergencies take place. Reagan National’s team is led by Danielle Morgan. The teams are made up of airport employees from all divisions.

First responders comfort the family member of a "victim" during Reagan National's emergency exercise, Saturday. (Washington Post) First responders comfort the family member of a “victim” during Reagan National’s emergency exercise Saturday. (THE WASHINGTON POST)

The morning went quickly, and volunteers were treated to a barbeque lunch after the exercise. But as airport manager Paul Malandrino, Jr. noted, it’s important to conduct these types of drills.

“We hope this never happens, but if it does, we want to be prepared,” he said.

A similar exercise was held at Washington Dulles International Airport in May.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.

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Mark Berman · September 20, 2013

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