On the 1 August 2019, the top 5 Year 1 Disaster Management students had the opportunity to attend a Phase 3 exercise at the Port Elizabeth International Airport. The scenario depicted a “plane crash” involving collision with a drone. The exercise involved all relevant stakeholders and responders, allowing the students an incredible insight into their future field of Disaster Management.

The students departed from Port Alfred at 6am on the Wednesday morning to be on time for the 8am start. Once at the airport, they donned reflector jackets and “Observer” identification tags and attended a briefing by the Civil Aviation organizer. The rest of the day was spent observing the processes on both a ground and organizational level. They witnessed the initial response of the airport fire services, the creation of the Field Control Post (FCP), triaging by the Nelson Mandela University Paramedic students and creation of a temporary onsite medical ward. The students were able to see how the different services responded, interacted and communicated to allow for ultimate efficiency in the situation.

Once the initial response was completed, the students returned to the main building to observe the full evacuation of the airport (which was not operational for 10 minutes for the exercise) and the response of the bomb squad to a possible threat. Upstairs in the Emergency Control Centre (ECC), they experienced the JOC environment and coordination and procedures, including the interaction with the media, that take place- while having a bird’s eye view of the “crash site”. From here, they saw SANDF helicopters evacuate patients, the police declare the area a crime zone and the forensic pathologists complete their analysis of the scene. The students were able to talk to one of Stenden’s fourth year students who is currently interning at PE’s Disaster Management unit as well as other parties involved in the exercise.

One week after the activity, the students returned to PE for the official debrief. This allowed them to recognize the positives and negatives of the activity, and see where improvements could be made. Overall, the exercise was an incredibly insightful experience for the Stenden students and enabled them to increase their understanding of the Disaster Management field for their future endeavors.

Some of the stakeholders involved include the PEIA and PE DM units, Airport and municipal fire services, Metro police (including the Bomb Squad and K9 unit), the traffic department (to block off roads), local hospitals, EMT services and NMU students, Victoria Park High School (to act as “casualties”), airline representatives, Civil Aviation, SANDF, Media representatives, councilors, airport security, Forensic Pathologists and border police.

Stenden South Africa extends a big thank you to the Port Elizabeth International Airport Disaster Management Centre and everyone involved for this incredible opportunity!