Control tower operators and first responders at North Texas Regional Airport may soon receive additional training following an incident at the airport last month. The incident, which was resolved safely with no issues, revealed breaks in procedures regarding communication during an emergency and a need to update tower equipment.
Airport officials said the incident occurred when an airplane reported an emergency while approaching the airport in August. Tower officials attempted to reach out to the NTRA Fire Station but were unable to make contact.
“The tower did what they were supposed to do and punched a button and they could not get a response back,” Interim Airport Manager Mike Livezey said during a meeting of the Grayson County Regional Mobility Authority. “It turned out it was pretty much a non-event. Nothing really happened from that. But, it did bring to light that we need to do some possible training and communication updates.”
The plane was able to resolve its issue without any assistance and was able to land safely, but the incident resulted in a meeting with representatives for the tower, fire station, RMA and the Grayson County Office of Emergency Management to determine where improvements could be made.
“We take any report of a delayed response seriously,” Grayson County Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Somers said.
One of the issues that the situation revealed was that the emergency contact line for the tower was directly to the fire station. Instead, it should direct to emergency dispatch, who would be able to directly contact the fire department or get in touch with an outside department for mutual aid.
Livezey said the department is working with its contractor to get the button reset to the proper number. He noted that the line is currently having other issues, but did not go into detail about them.
Somers said the tower also failed to follow proper procedure when it did not follow up by contacting 9-1-1 for assistance. While this was the first time that the issues with the emergency line have been brought up, officials gave no indication on when the phone lines had last been updated with up-to-date numbers.
“In this particular situation, it is clear that the tower was not communicating with the right people,” Somers said.
Somers believed that the firefighters were going to the grocery store when the call came in and noted that the firefighters did not notify the tower that they were leaving the area beforehand.
“We also respond to fires off the airport,” she said. “That’s why we have to be requested through 9-1-1 or dispatch.”
Somers also recommended that the tower purchase additional radios to be able to keep in contact with firefighters in the event that they are off site.
Both the RMA and the OEM said that the event could serve as a learning moment for all involved and a place to improve and practice necessary skills.
“If you have processes and procedures you need to practice them, and that’s what we are going to focus on,” GCRMA Board Chair Robert Brady said.