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Preparing for the worst

The scenario that crackled over the emergency scanner Wednesday sounded grim: a San Francisco flight landing at the Medford airport had crashed because of an aftershock that caused the runway to lurch.

Several dead, many injured, aircraft engulfed in flames.

A gut-wrenching situation, if real. It was not. It was an elaborate drill meant to make sure area public safety agencies are prepared if a disaster of that magnitude ever does happen, part of a statewide Cascadia Rising event meant to prepare for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

"Any large incident like this is way more than just business as usual," said Larry Masterman, emergency management coordinator for the city of Medford. "We have to shift the way we do things."

Learning to deal with stretched resources when so many need care is key in understanding how to manage such a chaotic scene, event officials said.

"Everybody out there has to be doing more than one thing," Masterman said.

The airplane in the exercise was actually a school bus, set ablaze for firefighters to put out. Dozens of volunteers acted like they were seriously injured.

Airport officials said the drill is held every three years so the facility can stay current with the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 139 certification, required of airports that serve aircraft with more than 30 seats, according to FAA guidelines.

"We make it as real-world as we possibly can," said airport public information officer Kim Stearns. "It just allows agencies to make sure their communications are in order, that incident command is working the way it should, that information is going out the way it should."

Participating agencies included the airport's fire department, Medford Fire-Rescue, Jackson County Fire District No. 3, Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Medford police, Mercy Flights, Red Cross, Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon and Jackson County Emergency Management. Providence Medford Medical Center and Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center also participated, simulating care to transported "patients."

"It's unanimous, I think, that people thought it was worth doing," Masterman said. "I think everybody found it worthwhile."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Firefighters work to put out a controlled fire Wednesday meant to simulate an airplane emergency near the runway at the airport. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
The Medford airport conducts a casualty exercise Wednesday near the runway. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch