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Lt. Col. Martin Granum, left, of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, and Col. Marc Luiken, the 374th Mission Support Group vice commander, respond to a plane “crash” on the Yokota Air Base flightline Tuesday. Granum served as the on-scene commander of Tuesday’s major-accident response exercise at Yokota.

Lt. Col. Martin Granum, left, of the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, and Col. Marc Luiken, the 374th Mission Support Group vice commander, respond to a plane “crash” on the Yokota Air Base flightline Tuesday. Granum served as the on-scene commander of Tuesday’s major-accident response exercise at Yokota. (Katie Thomas / USAF)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The call came in just after 8 a.m. Tuesday: An airplane had just gone down on base.

Police, fire and ambulance crews raced to the scene, which appeared grim and dire. Scores lay injured, including both those who’d been on the plane, and on the ground an unknown number were dead.

In this instance, though, it was only a test — a quarterly review of Yokota’s ability to confront a serious incident.

About 150 people took part in Tuesday’s major-accident response exercise, according to Lt. Col. Martin Granum, who served as the on-scene commander. Emergency responders tackled the three-hour planned drill with assistance from numerous other base agencies, including the 374th Operations and Maintenance squadrons.

“It was a huge success,” Granum said. “This is an excellent chance to practice and ensure our readiness for any mishap. We nailed it.”

The practice sessions are conducted for two reasons: Yokota officials want to sharpen emergency response, using their medical, fire, security forces and readiness personnel. And they also get a chance to test the base’s command and control function, which includes senior wing leadership and several different organizations, Granum explained.

On Tuesday, word of a plane “crash” reached Yokota’s command post at 8:05 a.m., said 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a base spokesman. With temperatures hovering in the upper 90s, immediate-response teams were dispatched to the site, where medical personnel handled triage, performed lifesaving treatments and prepared patients for transfer to the hospital.

Emergency responders dealt with 25 “casualties” in the exercise, including some fatalities, Granum said.

Officials briefly shut down both ends of Yokota’s runway during the exercise. Base traffic was halted for about 30 minutes on the north and south overruns.

“This allows us to get people out and practice these scenarios,” Comer said. “You want to have your eyes open before you face a real incident.”

Maj. Heidi Kjos, a flight surgeon who acted as the on-scene medical commander Tuesday, said routine rehearsals are critical in shaping the chemistry of emergency personnel.

“Every time you have a mass-casualty situation, you’re trying to make organization out of chaos, which can be nearly impossible,” she said. “It’s always a good experience to get people out here and see how it works, just in case the real thing happens.

“It went fairly smooth. You always have chaos. It’s kind of expected. Communication is the key.”

A few difficulties arose throughout the morning, Granum said, the “normal confusion” one might expect in an emergency of this magnitude.

“I’m pleased with how quickly we brought order to the chaos,” he said. “This exercise is a good test of our organization.”


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