Airline Emergency Response Planning & Training

Continental Connection (Operated by ColganAir) Flight 3407 accident

Posted 3/1/17

Posted 6/25/15

It hasn't yet been a full year since Ebola arrived in the United States on September 30, 2014 with Patient 0 arriving at a Dallas, Texas Hospital after traveling internationally from Africa.  Now MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has jumped from Saudi Arabia to South Korea - most likely via commercial airline flights.  Currently, 27 people have died from MERS in South Korea, out of 179 confirmed MERS cases, and 3,103 people suspected of having MERS have been put into isolation.  The eruption of cases in South Korea began after an undiagnosed patient with MERS was treated in a large Hospital in Seoul, infecting many others.  Korean Air has begun cabin sterilization procedures for all Korean Air flights, not just flights to and from the Middle East. 

I was recently asked to speak about Pandemic Planning at the Regional Airline Association meeting in Cleveland last month in May.  In my opinion - Pandemic Planning is probably the least prepared for Plan or Training at most airlines.  The goals of a good Pandemic Plan should be to protect passengers and crew, while reassuring everyone that a robust Pandemic Plan is in place, and training has already occurred.  Pandemic challenges for airlines include the reality that many passengers who may be infected do not want to admit to themselves, the airline, or the airport - that they could be infected, and choose to travel, even when they are displaying symptoms of the pandemic disease.  During Ebola, many smaller domestic airlines thought that their lack of an international route network protected them, only to see Ebola travel on domestic US flights.  Airline executives need to be thoroughly briefed on, and understand their airline's Pandemic Plan.  And as we saw publicly in the case of the Ebola infected Nurse traveling from Dallas to Cleveland on Frontier Airlines flights 1142 & 1143 - Executives have to acknowledge and plan for the reality that the airline may have to go well “above & beyond” prescribed Centers for Disease Control (CDC) measures to reassure passengers, employees, and the public.


Jason Kelly - President of Crisis Advisors

Posted 6/3/15

Emergency Response Blog

Continental Airlines Flight 1404 accident

Remember Ebola and MERS? Is your Pandemic Plan ready? - by Jason Kelly

The picture above on the left is the Continental Airlines Emergency Command Center, during the Continental Connection Flight 3407 (Operated by ColganAir) accident.

In light of recent airline accidents, many airlines have asked me - "How do we know if we are really prepared?"  Most airlines know they should conduct Emergency Response training each year, but many times the proposed training date keeps being postponed to "the future" - usually due to other competing priorities. 

No airline plans to have an aircraft accident, but airlines should consider the cost of not being prepared.  Many airlines ask me about Return On Investment (ROI) for Emergency Response training.  Besides the obvious answers of being prepared for IOSA Audits and SMS requirements, or complying with Family Assistance laws, airlines should think about the cost of not being prepared.  While your Insurance Company will do a tremendous job of covering the costs of an aircraft accident, including injured or killed passengers, aircraft hull loss, ground damage, etc. - hull insurance policies do not cover fixing the airline's public brand image due to an unprepared Emergency Response.  Essentially airlines only get one chance to "do things right" during the most incredibly chaotic and stressful time in the airline's history.  Emergency Response training is "additional insurance" that your airline will be prepared to handle an emergency, portraying a competent and organized Emergency Response.

Airlines also tend to feel a false sense of preparedness, because they already have a Corporate Emergency Response Manual, and had training "some years ago".  What many airlines don't realize, is that their manual has not been updated for some time, and they have had key personnel changes over the past couple of years who are not trained.  Emergency Response training is like "muscle memory", airline personnel need to practice decision making, accident policy making, functional checklists, cross team coordination, command and control, deployment, etc. - so that when the time comes, employees revert to their "muscle memory".

So how does an airline know that it's prepared?  Airlines should conduct Emergency Response training and a drill each year.  Have an Emergency Response consultant conduct a Gap Analysis, reviewing your Corporate Emergency Response Plan, Training Program, and assessing your airline during an Emergency Response Drill.  Emergency Response Drills are where you really find out if your Corporate Emergency Response Plan actually works, and if your employees have been trained properly.  It's also the time when you can fix problems with your plan or training, before an accident.

Jason Kelly - President of Crisis Advisors

Jason was Director of Emergency Management at Continental Airlines and Go Team leader for the Continental Connection (Operated by ColganAir) Flight 3407 accident in Buffalo, New York - pictured above.

Airlines need to be prepared - to immediately respond to an aircraft accident, serious incident, inflight emergency, ground incident, security incident, or other type of emergency.  Crisis Management of an aircraft accident or incident is very complex and fast moving, with command decisions needing to be made by the airline leadership - quickly, correctly, and decisively. There is no time after an aircraft accident for Emergency Response training of airline staff or policy making. Therefore, the majority of Emergency Response Planning and training should be done well ahead of time, and on a recurring basis. 

The best Emergency Response training is conducted at your offices, with your employees working and learning together - based on scenarios that match your airline's Flight Operations. Airline Emergency Response training should not only include power-point slides and videos - but also incorporate practical exercises and activities where employees can practice the skills and concepts they have learned. Airlines should hold Emergency Response training every year - to ensure employees maintain their knowledge and skill levels, as well as training new employees, and ensuring key emergency response seat holder positions are trained. 

The most important part of Emergency Response training is to conclude the training course(s) with an Emergency Response Drill / Exercise. Emergency Response Drills should be developed to test the airline's Emergency Response Plan and Manual against possible accident scenarios. An Emergency Response Drill takes the airline's Emergency Response Plan and Manual "off of the shelf" and puts it into practice - with a realistic scenario. Employees learn as much or more than they did in the Emergency Response training courses - because they are now working through their actual Emergency Response checklists and practicing communicating with each other. Debriefing of the Emergency Response Drill should result in findings and recommendations - that once implemented will improved specific Emergency Response Checklists and the overall Emergency Response Plan and Manual.

While Safety Management Systems (SMS), IOSA Audits and Certification, and other Safety Programs mitigate risk, Emergency Response training is equally important - to ensure that the airline is prepared - should an accident or emergency occur. While Emergency Response training can initially seem scary or may cause some anxiety - most airline employees come away from the training courses with a positive feeling - that they now know what to expect if an accident or emergency occurs, and that they have the training, skills, and checklists needed. Good Emergency Response training not only helps the airline provide compassionate assistance to survivors and family members, it prepares the airline for competent participation in the government accident investigation, crisis communications, and provides a structured transition process to the insurer.

Jason Kelly - President of Crisis Advisors

Jason was Director of Emergency Management at Continental Airlines and Go Team leader for the Continental Airlines Flight 1404 accident in Denver, Colorado - pictured above.

Is your airline prepared? - by Jason Kelly

For airlines and aviation companies

Emergency Response training for airlines - by Jason Kelly