The Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport on October 18, 2023, participated in its tri-annual Emergency Response Exercise where it conducted an intense drill to ensure its readiness and safety in case a real-life emergency should occur on airport grounds.
The airport's participation in tri-annual Emergency Response Exercises is an essential component of ensuring the safety and readiness of the airport in the event of a real-life emergency.
These exercises are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and are designed to comprehensively evaluate the airport's and mutual aid response capabilities concerning aircraft-related incidents.
Doroteo Garcia Jr., the interim airport director, emphasized the importance of these exercises in preparing the city's response teams for potential airport emergencies. While the airport itself is not graded on the exercise, the primary goal is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the response team to enhance their preparedness.
“Here at our Brownsville airport, we take the safety of our passengers very seriously and we continue to improve how we respond to any emergency that we have here at the airport,” Garcia said.
This year's simulated exercise involved a unique scenario in which an aircraft traveling from Mexico City to Washington D.C. was diverted to the Brownsville-SPI International Airport due to a fentanyl outbreak on board and an engine fire upon landing. Passengers had to be evacuated as part of the emergency response.
Jose Ruiz, Deputy Director of Development and Security at the airport, explained that this exercise was chosen to challenge the agencies involved with a scenario they hadn't encountered before. The inclusion of a fentanyl-related emergency aimed to provide valuable data to federal agencies about this emerging threat to international flights.
“This tested our agencies with something that they had never seen before but also allowed us to put on display something that is a little bit different that we can send information back to federal agencies so that they have a little more data on something like this,” Ruiz said.
The City of Brownsville dispatched emergency response teams and collaborated with partners to evaluate and assist in the exercise. Brownsville Fire Chief Jarrett Sheldon highlighted the vital role of the fire department, especially their proximity to the airport, which allows them to respond quickly. The scenario presented in the exercise, involving a fentanyl outbreak and an engine fire, was considered realistic given the current trend of fentanyl-related incidents.
“It could be realistic with an engine fire thrown in, so it kind of throws a curb ball into us that there are multiple operations going on at one time and really testing our skills and our abilities and see where we lay on our training and our responses,” Sheldon said.
These tri-annual Emergency Response Exercises at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport are crucial for testing and improving the airport's response capabilities in the face of various emergency scenarios, including those involving emerging threats like fentanyl. The goal is to ensure the safety of passengers and airport personnel during challenging situations.