Screamers and gore galore help airport emergency teams rehearse for disaster

Lisa Burke was having her idea of a great day. Her jeans smeared with fake blood, she had just finished preparing 292 "victims" of an airline collision to make them look as though they were suffering third-degree burns, shrapnel lacerations, sucking chest wounds and more.

Lisa Burke was having her idea of a great day. Her jeans smeared with fake blood, she had just finished preparing 292 "victims" of an airline collision to make them look as though they were suffering third-degree burns, shrapnel lacerations, sucking chest wounds and more.

"There's a real great femur out there, a big bone sticking out of someone's leg," she said with unmistakable satisfaction. Her baseball cap announced the name of her company: Burke's Blood Bath Disaster Moulage Services. "We're going to have a lot of screamers out there today."

Despite appearances, this was not the set of Hollywood's latest disaster extravaganza, but rather a deadly serious training drill at LAX, the Los Angeles international airport. On a remote stretch of runway, out of sight of the passenger terminals, 700 people were engaged in a simulated emergency: a cargo plane crossing the path of an accelerating passenger jet, slicing it into pieces and sending one part careering into a terminal building.

Participants included firefighters, paramedics, police officers, FBI agents, federal aviation officials and accident investigators as well as volunteer victims drawn from local medical and aviation schools.

Ostensibly this was a regular, three-yearly drill that LAX started more than 10 years ago. The disaster scenario was designed to be an accident, not an act of sabotage. But the subtext of terrorist threat was unmistakable. LAX, after all, is the one US airport al-Qa'ida is known to have tried to attack, as well as being among the largest passenger hubs in America.

When asked whether the exercise was set up to cover the sort of procedures triggered by a bomb attack as well as an accident, Mike Reagan, the airport fire chief, nodded solemnly and replied: "Absolutely."

And so, despite the ghoulish touches of black humour, the three-hour exercise was undertaken with the utmost seriousness. Arrayed on runway 25 right was a United Airlines jet and several sliced pieces of aircraft, most of them replacement parts used in salvage operations, that had been arrayed artfully on the runway surface.

Over the loudspeaker, a plaintive voice rang out from the control tower, issuing instructions to the putative cargo plane pilot who was clearly unwilling or unable to hear them properly. "Stop! Stop!" the controller shouted in vain before falling silent. Then came the code for a full-blown emergency - "20314, 20134, 20134!" - a series of loud beeps over the sound system. Within minutes a lime-green fire engine sporting a US flag rushed to the scene, squirting foam as soon as it arrived. It was followed by more lime-green fire engines, some of them fitted with special penetrating nozzles mounted on cranes that are designed to squirt foam and water into the fuselage of burning aircraft.

Behind them came a fleet of red paramedics' engines. Rescue workers were soon sorting through dozens of "victims" on the runway. Some lay near-motionless, tested for vital signs by paramedics, then tagged with a printed label reading "Problem: Obviously dead".

Others were sorted into groups of walking wounded, minor injuries and those requiring more immediate attention. The volunteers wept and screamed and tugged at the firefighter's flame-proof yellow jackets begging for attention. Lisa Burke's forecast of screamers proved to be spot-on.

Airport police set up a perimeter, which they patrolled on bicycles. A small group of news reporters was allowed in with a public information official. When two of them - by prior arrangement - tried to get closer to the scene than allowed they were quickly apprehended and sent back.

LA airport has undergone similar training exercises before, simulating everything from an earthquake and a plane crash over the Pacific, whose waves crash to shore just a few hundred yards from the end of the runways. But the focus shifted after a plot was uncovered to plant a bomb at LAX on the eve of the millennium. It shifted even more definitively after the events of 11 September.

Chief Reagan said airport officials now held regular meetings to consider counter-terrorist measures. They have acquired decontamination vehicles to deal with potential chemical or biological attacks, as well as employing and training clutch of experts on hazardous materials.

Since the Department of Homeland Security was formed last year, it has been pushing many of these changes. So many emergency drills are required by police and rescue services, in fact, that businesses catering for disaster rehearsals such as Burke's Blood Bath have been able to flourish and grow. Ms Burke said she services only emergency services. Hollywood holds no lure for her, and, in these days of counter-terrorism anxiety, she does not need it, either.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam