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Emergency exercise planned Wednesday at Castlegar airport

Don’t panic if you see smoke coming from the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar on Wednesday.

The city is conducting a full-scale emergency exercise, something Transport Canada requires them to do every four years.

The city says the exercise allows airport staff and first responders to test their response plans in a simulated aircraft emergency scenario to ensure that all agencies are well-prepared and coordinated in the event of a real emergency.

During the exercise, “large amounts of black smoke and considerable emergency response vehicle activity” will be visible at the airport, they said in a news release.

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The exercise will be led by consultant Shawn Sutherland, who used to be the airport’s manager.

“We started planning a year ago and got a little more serious about it a few months ago so the heads of the agencies had a sense of when we were going to do it and what we were going to try to practice,” he says.

“But the responders themselves will hopefully be able to test their skills and problem-solving in a live situation.”

Sutherland says the exercise will include Air Canada, airport operations staff, police, fire, and ambulance. He says it’s also an opportunity for businesses that operate on the airport lands to consider what would happen in a real emergency.

The exercise should not affect commercial flights.

“We’re putting it on when there’s less anticipated activity and barring a medevac, in which case we would shut down the exercise and reopen everything, we’ll do it during what would normally be a quiet period during the day.”

Sutherland says the exercise needs to be done by the end of the calendar year but otherwise the fact that it is being conducted in late November is just the way things worked out. A similar exercise was conducted last month at the Trail airport.

Sutherland says the exercises usually take about an hour, followed by a debrief to ask and answer questions, “look for things that need to be improved or fixed, or any problems so everyone going forward has a learning experience.”

The airport in Castlegar has commercial service to Vancouver and Calgary. It sees an average of 12,500 arrivals and departures and 74,000 passengers per year.

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