Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Delivers Emergency Response Training to Entire Workforce

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Delivers Emergency Response Training to Entire Workforce
Author: 
Ronnie Wendt
Published in: 
November-December
2019

One year after a man went on a shooting rampage near the baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), the Broward County Commission passed an ordinance requiring all aviation employees to receive emergency response training. 

Before the 2018 resolution, airport workers received security training, but many tenant employees did not. Those not receiving training included airline counter employees, ground handlers, concessions staff and employees working in the parking garage and at the curb.

The Commission’s decision to require emergency response training for all followed an independent after-action report that revealed most airport employees were unsure what to do during the Jan. 6, 2017, mass shooting.  

facts&figures

Project: Emergency Response Training 

Location: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Airport (FL)

Scope: Online training for 17,000+ employees of airport & tenants 

Cost: $322,834 (including almost $142,000 for translation costs)

Timeline: March 2018 to mid-Aug. 2018

System Developer: SSi

Sample Topics: Personal action plans; what to expect from first responders; basic first aid skills; maintaining customer service during a crisis

Avg. Time to Complete Training: 2½ hours

Catalyst: 2017 active shooter incident near baggage claim area 

Of Note: 1st large hub airport in U.S. to conduct mandatory emergency training for all employees; workers paid for training time

Recognition: 2019 Nat’l Association of Counties Achievement Award in the Personnel Management, Employment & Training category 

Commission leaders took another bold step when they required FLL and its stakeholders to pay all workers while they completed the training, notes Mike Nonnemacher, chief operating officer for the Broward County Aviation Department.

Today, FLL has trained more than 17,000 workers how to respond to active shootings, weather-related emergencies and other catastrophes through its Airport Employee Emergency Training (AEET) program.

The result is a workforce that knows the steps to take when disaster strikes—an accomplishment that netted FLL recognition from the National Association of Counties. The airport’s training program received a 2019 Achievement Award in the Personnel Management, Employment and Training category. 

The airport is also receiving direct feedback that points to success. One employee who recently discovered a suspicious package at the airport told management that he knew exactly what to do and how to report the item. 

“You’d be surprised by what your employees don’t know,” says Nonnemacher. “When I say that, I’m not talking about the employees who work directly for the airport. I’m talking about the ticket agents, ground handlers, skycaps, wheelchair attendants, etc. But you will have emergency events. We’ve had a major fire on a commercial airliner, a cargo plane cash, and I’m on my 10th hurricane after 32 years here. 

“You need to be prepared,” he stresses, noting that response training is an important part of being prepared. 

Tight Timeline

Time was of the essence after the Commission resolution passed in February 2018. Both the airport and Commission wanted all workers trained by year’s end. 

However, FLL was starting from scratch. It is the first large hub airport in the U.S. required to provide response training for all employees. In short, FLL was not reinventing the wheel, it was building it.

The project team quickly settled on video-based online training. “It is an effective and consistent way to train employees,” says Nonnemacher.

Needing a vendor that could deliver a program within months, FLL reached out to SSi, the security consultant already providing online training for badge renewals. 

“They were under contract with us, and had a product that worked at the airport already,” Nonnemacher explains. “They agreed to do it, and we got to work right away.” 

The FLL team included leaders from airport administration, law enforcement, fire rescue/medical teams and TSA representatives. The team met internally to determine topics to cover, then reached out to SSi. From that point, SSi had five months before FLL’s goal for an early August launch, which was established to help meet the end-of-year completion deadline. The course production team included curriculum writers, videographers, graphic artists and security specialists. 

“Normally, customized training takes four to six months for one training module. We did six in the same amount of time, and that was only in English. Broward County required the training modules to be translated into Spanish and Haitian Creole. So, in fact, we deployed 18 modules inside of seven months,” notes Lorena de Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of SSi.   

Gregory Meyer, public information officer at the Broward County Aviation Department, describes the feat as a Herculean effort. 

Developing the Curriculum 

After determining the topics they wanted to cover, airport personnel met weekly to develop a training script. Content was reviewed many times before the team landed on a final draft, notes Nonnemacher. 

“We then went to SSi in Phoenix and went over it word-by-word and case-by-case for four days,” he recalls. “We had to get the script right, because we would translate it into Spanish and Creole to meet our demographics; and translation is very expensive.” (See Facts & Figures specifics.)

While SSi routinely translates its training courses into Spanish for clients, working with Haitian Creole was new for the company. “The airport was extremely helpful,” notes de Rodriguez. “A couple of their security managers have experience translating and interpreting in past positions, some with the military.”

At the same time, SSi sent a video team to capture secondary B-roll footage for the final production. “We even did an active shooter drill in the middle of the night, and SSi captured video of that,” Nonnemacher says. 

 “Normally, we wait until the script is 100% approved before we shoot any footage, but we began production simultaneously to save time,” explains de Rodriguez.

The airport and SSi gathered feedback about key aspects of the curriculum from employee managers and supervisors, and then edited changes to the course before launching the program airport-wide. 

Initially, SSi set up the cloud-based training as a standalone website to train employees quickly. Required personnel from FLL were able to self-register and complete the training from any location and have their completion records maintained in the learning management database. Later, the database was integrated and the emergency training was simply another part of the airport’s badging process. 

The airport launched its new training on Aug. 15, 2018. Training was required for all employees who regularly work at FLL or have Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges and/or Public Area Business Purposes (PABP) credentials. Most employees completed the online training at home on their own computers, but FLL also set up a temporary computer lab equipped with 12 laptops for employees who did not have a computer at home. The project team also set up a familiarization lab in Terminal 4 for two days. The lab was especially effective preparing tenant employees for the upcoming training.

By the close of 2018, every employee had taken the 2½- to 3-hour set of online courses. 

Although the new training was inspired by an active shooter incident, FLL expanded the curriculum to also address hurricanes, aircraft incidents and other emergencies. “We had other tragedies in the past,” explains Nonnemacher. “We wanted employees to know what to do once an emergency happens. That included: How to communicate, who to communicate with, how to protect yourself, how to protect others, and whether you should protect others or protect yourself first.” 

Emergency training should be unique to each airport, stresses de Rodriguez. “Fort Lauderdale had situations that they wanted to highlight, such as the incident in their terminal building and a plane crash,” she explains. “Another airport might be tornado prone and need their employees to know what to do in that situation or perhaps in case of a fire evacuation. Every airport will want this training to look a little different.”

FLL’s training program includes six modules that cover:

  • Why emergency training is important
  • Airport familiarization/orientation and review of emergency plans
  • Active threat response: Assess, Run, Hide, Fight
  • How to interact with first responders and communicate effectively during an emergency
  • Basic first aid/what to do until help arrives 
  • Maintaining customer service during a crisis. This module also discussed the TSA Blue Campaign for human trafficking awareness. 

The importance of situational awareness is emphasized throughout FLL’s training. Workers learn that situational awareness does not occur after an event occurs. It is something they do at the beginning of every shift and throughout the workday. 

“We are asking employees to take responsibility for looking around their work area,” says de Rodriguez. “If I’m working at the gates, what are my escape routes? If I’m working in baggage claim, what are my escape routes? If I’m working at the FBO across the airfield, do I have locations to hide to make things safe for myself and the passengers around me?

“We ask them to take responsibility for thinking about what they would do if something happened,” she adds. “Evacuation routes will differ depending on where you are.”

Training employees how to communicate with first responders is also key. The curriculum teaches employees not to run after first responders or to make any sudden movements.  

“After the 2017 shooting, employees reported that they didn’t know what to expect from first responders, or how long after an event they may still be in the aftermath,” de Rodriguez notes. 

FLL’s training teaches workers how long emergency response can take, how to communicate with first responders, and what to expect during the initial response. For example, employees learn that first responders’ primary objective is to neutralize the threat. 

“This means that you might be bleeding, but first responders will walk past you to find the threats,” she explains. “Once they do that, they will prioritize needs based on the gravity of the situation. The training helps employees recognize that first responders have an important job to do. As an employee, your job is to listen to their directions and follow them to the best of your ability.”

With permission, SSi incorporated a video from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into its training course. The 30-minute presentation, Until Help Arrives, teaches employees how to work with first responders and what to do while waiting for them. 

For Nonnemacher, knowledge is power. “Employees now know that emergency response will take a long time,” he reflects. “A situation may only take seconds to unfold, but it will take hours to recover from. If employees recognize this, they can stay calm and help other passengers understand the process.”

Online Precautions

Employees self-registered for the emergency response training program and received personalized credentials to access the SSi Learning Management System. The web portal assigns specific training courses for each employee, based on his or her role in the organization and language preference. Everyone, however, is on the training list. 

Employees work through the training modules in sequential order and must pass a short quiz at the end of each section before moving on to the next. 

“The average training time is 2½ hours,” reports Nonnemacher. “It is a forced path. If you go through a module, there are knowledge checks along the way. If you miss something on the knowledge check, the system automatically takes you back to the section covering that topic. Then, you go through the knowledge check again.” 

According to de Rodriguez, more than 95% of FLL employees passed the training on their first try because of the intermediate knowledge checks designed into the courses. Employees could take each of the six courses separately, allowing them to accumulate toward total completion.

Because employees are compensated for their training time, the courses are programmed to “time out” if someone stops using it for more than five minutes. “They cannot start the program then go idle for seven hours and get paid for seven hours,” Nonnemacher says. “When they print their certificate at the very end, it is time-stamped with when they started and ended, and the actual time they spent working on it.”

Training for All

Employees at FLL must complete emergency training annually or every other year, depending on their position. The SSi system tracks when it’s time for an employee to retake the training. Automatic notifications are sent the employee’s signatory, reminding them when the badge and training are due for renewal.

All employees must complete the training—even those who don’t need a SIDA badge, such as curbside workers or parking attendants. “We amended our security program to require those employees who have a public area business badge to take this training,” says Nonnemacher. “Airport CEO Mark Gale said if we are going to train employees at the airport, we will train all of them. It will be everyone, not just select groups of people who come in contact the public.” 

With FLL firmly committed to training all employees, de Rodriguez has already heard from other airport operators who may soon follow suit. “Airports need to have this training, but they are struggling to make it happen,” she observes. “Many airports deliver emergency response training to their internal staff. But when something happens, it’s often the airline employees, the ground handlers, the retail shop employees and food service employees who are on the front lines. They need to understand their role and what they can do to help.”

Subcategory: 
Emergency Operations

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