Airport completes impressive emergency evacuation drill

POSTED: 11/23/11 6:52 AM
Immediately following the emergency exercise the evacuation team met in the PJIA training room to evaluate the Emergency Evacuation Drill. (PJIA photo)

St. Maarten – Tuesday’s first emergency evacuation drill at the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) was “seamlessly executed”. All staff and management of PJIA, the businesses and services as well as travelers and visitors were all evacuated from the just over five year old terminal building in the hour-long exercise that began at 9:05 a.m.
The actual evacuation of most of the building took only minutes. Only the handful of safety officers who stayed behind to “sweep” the building were in it after others had been ushered out. Their job was guiding stragglers toward their designated exits and assembly points.
Tuesday’s scenario was built around a fire in the mechanical room on level 2 of the four-level building, while 70 percent of the space in the airport is occupied. The true number of people present was 600 and all left the building in a “speedy,” “orderly” manner where “nobody was panicking”. Once they exited the building people calmly chatted, observed, stood or sat and waited at the four points, while PJIA managing director Regina LaBega, Manager of Operations Michel Hyman, Deputy Chief of Rescue & Fire Fighting Damian Cooks, and other key members of the evacuation drill workgroup team, continued to diligently network and monitor the progress of the emergency event and to attend to their pre-designated assignments.

Cross section of the “PJIA community” at one of four assembly points during airport evacuation drill. (PJIA photo)

The airport taxi drivers were also included in the drill, and were instructed to move their vehicles from the Arrival Lane and have them parked near the easterly assembly point facing the lagoon for the duration of the drill. By 9:30 a.m., the initial 600 or so occupants and users of the airport were joined by a number of passengers who had arrived and filed into the assembly areas almost imperceptibly under the guidance of security officers. Some of the waiting passengers appeared to take the drill as part of their St. Martin experience. Some observed casually while others stayed alert and yet others posed for the occasional reporter’s camera or took pictures of fellow travelers.
Around 9:43 a.m. people were able to walk back into the building. Some chose single file groups identified by the airline, shop, cleaning service or other companies that are tenants of the hub-busy international airport. By all visible signs PJIA was back to normal at 10 a.m.
Six minutes after things were settled again the emergency evacuation team met in the training room at PJIA to evaluate the drill. Hyman labeled it a success but urged the participants to point out things that need improvement so they could build on what they have and enhance the evacuation plan.
LaBega congratulated the entire team on the first drill.
“You did a commendable job. The review of what took place is for us to be better in the event of a real disaster. We need to take the evacuation extremely serious and I’m happy that you did,” LaBega said.
The review comments targeted personnel, equipment, building, and procedural glitches. One departing point that all agreed on was that the evacuation of the building, was “speedy” and “orderly.” The most impressive comments came from the keen-eyed officers of the government’s Fire Department, who called the PJIA operations “impressive.” The fire officers also stressed the importance of the critical need for the safety team that “sweeps” the building to ensure it is fully evacuated and then exit themselves. Communication between the volunteer safety officers, security officers, and between the assembled groups and their group leaders will also be improved upon and streamlined as a result of the drill.
Most of the equipment such as automated doors and alarms, worked according to emergency procedures. The sound alarm and the voice alerting all, that, “due to an emergency it is necessary to evacuate the terminal” remained clear and constant throughout the operation, although it was noted by evaluators that the alarm sound could be a bit louder at the onset of the emergency alert.
Overall, the emergency evacuation drill was deemed successful and PJIAE intends to conduct similar drills annually.
“We would like to thank all users of the airport for their participation and cooperation during the emergency evacuation drill,” LaBega concluded.

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