MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A plane crash is an emergency Myrtle Beach International Airport staff never hope to see, but they're prepared if it does.
The airport held a full-scale emergency exercise Saturday morning.
"It's important that we come together and practice like this, because a major incident actually takes everybody, because there would be so many potential casualties and people involved," said Kirk Lovell, Director of Air Service and Business Development for Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Every year, the airport and emergency responders review protocol in a tabletop exercise, but every three years, they host a full-scale exercise to meet FAA requirements.
"This is a major exercise that we have to do well on because it's part of our certification as a Part 139 airport to be able to allow commercial aircraft to operate at the airport," Lovell said.
The exercise involved various agencies from the local to state level, including Airport Rescue Firefighting, Horry County Police Airport Division, Myrtle Beach Fire Department, Horry County Fire Rescue, the Horry County Coroner's Office, SC State Guard, the American Red Cross, TSA, FAA as well as airlines and hospitals.
"If you look at different major incidents that happened around the United States, sometimes you have 30, 40 different agencies involved and you'll have 10, 15, 20 different hospitals involved," he said. "If you have an aircraft that crashes, you could have 200 casualties or more. One hospital couldn't handle that so it's a major event. It's important that we understand every aspect of the potential event."
Airport Rescue Firefighting, or ARFF, responds first.
"Their response time has to be within seconds of the plane landing because the fuselage actually melts really quickly, so their responsibility is to put out the fire to save lives," he said.
Then, other municipal agencies respond.
They went through all of the steps of responding to a plane crash from spraying chemicals and labeling debris to getting victims out of a fuselage and taking care of their injuries, which they knew from reading a label on each dummy.
"You have to go through every single potential outcome to make sure you know how to handle it. And then the evaluators are also watching to make sure you're handling it properly," he explained.
The FAA evaluated and critiqued the airport and the responding agencies.
A mock reunification center, which is where loved ones would meet with victims and get information, was also set up at the airport for the exercise.
"For every one person you have on the plane, you have five loved ones that show up at airport," he said. "It really becomes a big, a very, very large scale event for everybody."
Announcements were made to people at the airport to let them know an exercise was going on and a staff member was available to answer questions. An audience watched from terminal A.