Drilling Down on Safety

On Saturday, Nov. 10, Glacier Park International Airport coordinated an active shooter exercise in the airport terminal. Approximately 150 emergency responders from 20 local agencies participated in the drill.  For the safety of the traveling public, the exercise was conducted during a time of day when there were no commercial flights and no passengers were in the terminal.

Exercise coordinator and GPIA Fire Chief Wesley Long spent months planning for the integrated drill. In the weeks before the exercise, there was no shortage of news to remind him why the exercise was important.

“There were three real-world active shooter events in the news, one a week, leading up to our drill. Having a proactive response to such an event is incredibly important,” Long said. “Simulating this kind of event allows us to plan for possible scenarios, isolate issues in training and communication, and promote information sharing with our emergency response partners across the valley.”

Linwood Carmen, a trainer and inspector from the Transportation Security Administration, was present to evaluate the exercise. He rated the drill among the best active shooter exercises he has seen — that’s high praise for a rural location like Kalispell, where resources are limited.

In smaller cities like Kalispell, many departments work with minimal staff and some are highly dependent on volunteers. Limited staffing across agencies made the participation rate even more impressive.

“Often, it’s difficult to find the time to train, even within your own agency, let alone on a level like we did with the active shooter drill,” he said. “We involved folks from as far away as Missoula and throughout the valley.”

Interagency exercises are crucial in establishing communication and cooperation when a real emergency occurs. It’s also important to test the response time of emergency services across the valley — Wes knew they’d find areas to improve. Thanks to the drill, the department’s EMS partners have pinpointed areas where they’ll be working to strengthen their abilities.

The GPIA team intends to keep the momentum from this exercise going; Wes has already started planning the next exercise.

“All participants have expressed how much they appreciated the opportunity to work together more,” Long said. “We’re excited for the next opportunity we have to promote preparedness in our community.”