Paine Field certified as federal staging area for disasters

EVERETT — A year’s worth of drills to prepare for a large-scale emergency paid off for Paine Field this week when it received certification as a federal staging area.

That means the county-run airport can be used to launch evacuations or medical treatment for disasters anywhere in the U.S., whether man-made or natural.

County Executive Aaron Reardon and Col. Dallas Homas, commanding officer of Madigan Army Medical Center, signed a joint agreement Wednesday to make it official.

“Paine Field is the first non-Department of Defense airport staging area in Washington to have been given this validation,” Homas said in a press release.

The news comes during National Preparedness Month, when federal, state and local officials encourage people to make sure they’ve taken safeguards for situations such as earthquakes, storms and man-made disasters.

The airport’s certification under the National Disaster Medical System followed a 12-month process. Paine Field also was a designated staging area during the Vancouver, B.C., Winter Olympics.

An array of law enforcement agencies, hospitals and relief organizations are partners in the effort. They include: the county’s Department of Emergency Management, Snohomish Health District, Snohomish County Chapter American Red Cross, Castle & Cooke Aviation, Airlift Northwest, Providence Regional Medical Center, Swedish/Edmonds Hospital, Harborview Medical Center, state agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region X.

The certification is unrelated to a disaster exercise at Paine Field on Thursday that lasted for several hours. In that scenario, emergency workers practiced rescuing more than 40 airplane passengers. The drill simulated a fiery collision between two aircraft on one the airport’s taxiways. Smoke machines and Kamiak High School students playing the role of victims contributed to the drill’s realism. About two dozen emergency and law enforcement agencies participated.

This type of exercise is required every three years by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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