Emergency crews conduct 'active-shooter' training at Billings ai - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Emergency crews conduct 'active-shooter' training at Billings airport

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(MTN News Photo) (MTN News Photo)
(MTN News Photo) (MTN News Photo)

Roughly 30 "victims" were treated and transported in a full-scale active-shooter training drill on Wednesday morning at the Billings Logan International Airport.

The safety exercise was the first active-shooter situation airport officials and emergency responders have practiced at the airport and was inspired by the tragic shooting at the Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida in January.

After six months of planning, the situation had a shooter begun in the baggage claim, ultimately "dying" in the concourse.

Arriving law enforcement cleared the scene, allowing victims -- volunteers who had makeup applied to various areas of their body -- to be treated by medical responders including the Billings Fire Department.

Radio chatter and commands filled the west side of the building as the exercise unfolded.

The situation was unscripted for emergency responders, forcing them to rely on communication and coordination.

Volunteers were assigned roles; a woman who was assisting beyond her abilities, victims who would groan or limp from their wounds, all to give responders attempting to transport them a feel for the difficulty of helping people in a traumatic situation.

Shane Ketterling, assistant director of Billings' Aviation and Transit Department, called the exercise a success.

"From everything that I saw, I thought it went very well," Ketterling said.

Observers, who were sectioned near the baggage claim, were assigned to critique the response.

"We'll come together and share all that information, learn from each other on what went well, what didn't go so well, what we can work on. Obviously that's why we do these exercises and drills is to learn from them. That's the key thing," Ketterling said.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires airports to conduct full-scale exercise every three years. Next year, airport officials will hold a "tabletop" discussion on an emergency situation to be prepared for, likely involving a airplane accident..

"Being in a management role at the airport, this was very emotional," Ketterline said. "We hope that it never happens, pray that it doesn't, but we want to be prepared. And that's the takeaway is everyone did their responsibilities just as they're trained to do everyday."

Lockwood Fire Chief John Staley, who was the City of Thorton Fire Chief in Colorado for six years until returning to Montana, said he understands the importance of having exercises like the one held on Wednesday if a situation were to occur.

Thorton provided assistance to Aurora when James Holmes killed 12 people at a movie theater in 2012.

"What I saw was collaboration and that's what's important," Staley said. "You have to have law enforcement secure the scene, you have to have EMS for the victims, you have to have coordination with your hospitals, your dispatch centers, all of those things."

Staley continued, "Communication is what usually breaks down, but what I saw today was very good communication. Hiccups, sure, but that's why you do these things."

If a active-shooter situation were to occur, neighboring stations would be requested to help handle other calls while Billings Police, AMR, Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office, and Billings Fire respond to the scene.

In Colorado, where a number of shootings have taken place over the last two decades, Staley's fire department and police devised a response plan in Thorton to provide triage and treatment to victims at a scene by securing a "warm zone" of police presence around them even if the shooter has not been located.

Two years ago, Staley and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder sent several to train, adopt the protocols, and teach others in their departments here.

"The fact that law enforcement and fire are now collaboratively working on active-shooter [situations], 10 years ago we would have never entertained that idea," Staley said. "This type of training in Yellowstone County, it should give people a sense of some comfort in that not only are we training, but we discuss, we critique, we thing of better ways to do it."

Homeland Security urges anyone caught in an active-shooter situation remember to use the "Run, Hide, Fight" protocol to stay alive.

Meanwhile, the Billings Logan International Airport is moving forward on $45 million expansion plans in its terminal. Ketterling said they hope to be underway with design within the next 12 months with construction in 18 months.

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