DES BARKER SAFETY ARTICLES
Posted on 09 May 2018 by Louise Hofmeyr
Air Show Emergency
The air show industry has established
numerous programs and courses to help
avoid air show accidents. The relatively low
number of air show accidents each year
suggests that these programs, and a broadbased,
industry-wide commitment to air
show safety, have been effective.
But, no matter how well these initiatives
work, every air show has the potential for
aircraft-related accidents and incidents. In
addition, for every minor or major aircraftrelated
incident, industry research indicates
that there may be as many as 47 nonaircraft-
related accidents, including golf cart
accidents, parking lot incidents, problems
involving wind or thunderstorms, and the
unavoidable and relatively frequent “trip and
Many shows have found through experience
that the development of a Comprehensive
Air Show Emergency Response Plan
BY JOHN CUDAHY
(CASERP) is the most effective method of
dealing with virtually any type of accident
or incident. A strong CASERP provides
clear direction on how to apply the show’s
available resources to respond to any one
of these incidents or accidents. In some
cases, a well-developed and properly
implemented CASERP can maximize the
use of resources, minimize losses, and
ensure your organization’s ability to deal
with a wide variety of possible problems.
Conversely, when a CASERP is not used or
is poorly implemented, losses can be much
higher than necessary and your show could
experience strong negative public reaction.
But developing a CASERP can be a
difficult and time-consuming endeavor. To
simplify that process, ICAS has prepared
a list of some of the more important items
that should be included in most air show
37 a i r s h o w s 2 Q 2 0 1 7
putting the CASERP
Anything less formal will not serve the
intended purpose in the event of an
incident. And, further commit to ensuring
the CASERP is updated on a regular
basis. Too often, the hard work and clear
thinking that originally went into a strong
emergency plan is wasted when the plan
becomes a paperweight gathering dust on
the top shelf of a filing cabinet.
2Begin the process
of developing your
CASERP by looking
at your airport’s
Many of the issues that ought to be addressed
in your plan are already covered
in the airport’s emergency plan. So, draw
on the expertise and experience of the
people who helped generate the airport’s
plan. Some experts suggest using the
substance and format of the airport’s
plan as the starting point for yours, when
possible, adding air show-specific contingencies
and direction that would not
normally be included in the airport’s plan.
3Your plan should
include answers to
the very toughest
questions that you
and your colleagues
can ask yourselves.
Imagine and plan for otherwise unimaginable
scenarios. Remember that this is not
an exercise in tempting fate. It’s a contingency
plan that may ultimately be judged
on how thoroughly and effectively you
challenge your organization to consider
the widest variety of emergency scenarios.
In March, ICAS distributed a new tool that it hopes
most event organizers will never have to use, a twopiece
crisis communications tool. The tool simplifies
and amplifies crisis communications into four distinct
components: “Assess the Situation,” “Centralize
Communications,” “Engage Support,” and, then, seek
ICAS “Support with Local & National Media, Safety
Issues.” The tools are meant to supplement, not
replace, air shows’ crisis communications plans, to
simplify and coordinate thinking during moments of
highest stress, and to alleviate the burden for event
organizers having to handle the inquiries of local and
The first of the two components is an 8-1/2” x 11”
flyer that is earmarked for placement in operations/
emergency response manuals. The second component
contains the same information, but fits onto a
fold-over card, sized to fit in anyone’s wallet.
“No one wants to deal with a crisis at an air show, but
preparing for all eventualities is part of the business,”
said Herb Gillen, who operates a marketing and
communications firm that caters to the air show
community. “Everything that’s on this one-page
sheet and on this fold-over card is basic, commonsense
stuff. But when crises occur, tools such as these
allow you to take some of the thinking out of the
equation and rely on simple processes at a moment
when details that otherwise might be second nature
might elude you.”
Another element of the crisis communications tool
is an invitation to engage ICAS immediately as a
source for media inquiries. That, in Gillen’s view, is a
particularly significant point. “After an incident, the
sooner an event organizer can off-load the burden of
media inquiries to ICAS, the better,” he said. “There
is no way to completely avoid engaging the media
after a crisis, but directing them to a national resource
that can speak to safety issues from a trusted
third party, that’s better for everyone involved.”
And ICAS can fill that role well. “We will never
insert ourselves into any part of a show’s emergency
response, but we are always available and eager to
assist if we can be helpful in any way,” says ICAS
President John Cudahy. “And, on the occasions when
we have provided that kind of assistance in the past,
our help has been both appreciated and effective.”
In addition to the mailing to all event organizer
members, ICAS also has made the same materials
available on its website at www.airshows.aero
4Be sure that your plan
clearly identifies the
roles of all major and
minor players in the
event of an accident.
The CASERP should clarify the specific
roles that police officers, crash/fire/rescue
(CFR) personnel, physicians, nurses, paramedics,
air bosses, announcers and other
key personnel should play in the event of
an accident. Like countless other things in
emergency response planning, if this is done
ahead of time, it becomes one less job to do
in the chaos following an accident.
5Clearly identify the
person or people in
charge in the event
of an accident.
Most shows select a single person to manage
implementation of their emergency plan.
This is the “emergency response CEO,” the
individual responsible for making decisions
and allocating resources. In the event of an
emergency, this will be the person running
the response, the one to whom others look
for leadership and direction.
6The plan should also
designate a press
the manner in which
the show interfaces
with the press in the
event of an accident.
So that the press does not receive conflicting
or inaccurate information, most shows designate
a single person for these duties and
prohibit anybody else from talking to the
press about any issue related to the accident.
This portion of the CASERP should be
particularly detailed. The post-accident environment
is no place to be making policy
39 a i r s h o w s 2 Q 2 0 1 7
decisions, least of all those that will impact a
show’s interaction with the press.
7The CASERP should
paint a clear picture of
chain of command.
It’s no coincidence that the military is so
deeply committed to its chain of command.
In the heat of battle – real or figurative – a
well-established chain of command is especially
effective at facilitating decisions.
8Your CASERP should
not be limited to
that happen during
the air show waiver.
Major accidents can happen as early as the
arrival of the first static aircraft or as late
as the departure of the last spectator. Your
plan should also reflect the fact that many
of the most common air show accidents and
incidents occur as spectators are arriving at
and leaving from the show each day.
9Your plan should
it is significantly
more likely that an
accident or incident
will occur behind
the crowd line rather
than in front of it.
Though they are often dramatic, aircraft
accidents at air shows are relatively infrequent.
Your emergency response personnel
are much more likely to be asked to assist
with multiple minor injuries caused by an
unexpected thunderstorm or an expectant
mother who goes into labor or somebody
who gets hit by a golf cart. As critical as it is
that the CASERP address aircraft accidents,
it must also address the mundane and much
should be positioned
and in a sufficient
state of readiness so
that they can respond
quickly to incidents
on either side of
the crowd line.
Soon-to-be-released FAA guidance will
require that CFR personnel be positioned
and prepared to be planeside conducting
an extraction of the pilot or extinguishing
flames within 60 seconds of an accident.
This can only be accomplished if careful
consideration is given to the placement and
preparedness of those personnel. Your plan
should specify precisely where fire trucks,
first aid tents and other emergency response
personnel and services are located.
be involved in every
At least one person from every CFR crew
should know how to open the canopies of
every pilot performing in the show. Additional
emergency extraction information
(fuel shut-off, master switch, lift points,
etc.) should be provided to each CFR team/
vehicle that might respond in the event of an
incident. If the firefighter who got briefed on
Friday is not there on Saturday, his replacement
ought to be briefed.
14 The safety and
plans for accidents
also be specified
in your CASERP.
From jet vehicles and monster trucks to
climbing walls, midway rides and flight
simulators, air shows are including more
more common types of incidents and accidents
that happen when a large number of
people are gathered for an outdoor festival.
10 In the event of an
accident, some portion
of your resources
must be committed
to keeping the
crowd away from the
Does your plan address crowd control?
Typically, shows use police officers or other
uniformed personnel. In addition, your
CASERP should include specific direction to
your air show announcer on what to say and
when to say it. Most shows ask the announcer
to confirm that there has been an accident
and assure the audience that professionals
are dealing with it…all in a professional and
calm tone of voice. Some shows ask all performers
to go to an autograph tent so that
spectators can be directed to that area. These
are all decisions and direction that should be
provided to the announcer ahead of time.
11 Provide clear
direction that keeps
an obstruction or
In several cases during the last 40 years,
law enforcement has inadvertently become
part of the problem by getting in the way
or being present at the accident scene in an
unhelpful manner. Make sure your CASERP
makes it clear that accident response is
primarily the responsibility of CFR personnel
and that it specifically outlines when and
how law enforcement should be involved.
vehicles and personnel
40 a i r s h o w s 2 Q 2 0 1 7
and more non-aircraft related performers
and attractions. With each addition comes
new emergency response challenges, some of
which were not a concern with previous acts
15 There are a number
of areas for potential
fires at an air show;
your CASERP should
address all of them.
Brush fires caused by over-heated catalytic
converters of automobiles in the
parking areas? Grease fires in the food
preparation area of concession stands?
Small pyro-generated fires that develop
into large pyro-generated fires? None of
these scenarios are hypothetical. All of
them have happened at North American
air shows during the last 20 years. Do you
have the proper and sufficient quantities
of equipment, extinguishing agents and
vehicular access to deal with all of these
scenarios? Are your CFR crews familiar
with the idiosyncrasies of certain types of
aircraft-related fires? For instance, do your
CFR personnel recognize that they should
not attempt to put out a stack fire on an
aircraft engine that is still turning? All of
these issues should be addressed in your
emergency response plan.
16 Your organization’s
scares and terrorist
all be covered in
In the event of a suspected kidnapping,
for example, do you have the capability to
prevent spectators from leaving your site?
Local law enforcement officials can assist
in the development of this portion of your
instance, “Go back to your cars and wait to
hear the all-clear message on such and such
AM radio station.”) Your CASERP should
also discuss how to move aircraft in the
event of thunderstorms or tornadoes. The
owners of that priceless B-17 will not want
their aircraft in harm’s way in the event of an
imminent hail storm.
20 Do you have enough
paramedics and nurses?
One subject matter expert suggests that an
air show should have one doctor for every
30,000 spectators. He suggests two paramedics
or ALS nurses for every 10,000 spectators.
21 Work with officials
in your state to get
a Disaster Mobile
to your show.
Once committed, ensure that the D-MAT
team becomes an integral part of your plan.
D-MAT teams come complete with emergency
room physicians, nurses and limited
emergency room capabilities. Most states
now have D-MAT teams and they will often
agree to participate in your show at no cost
to you to meet their own practice/exercise
22 Your CASERP should
direction on the
type and amount of
that should be
available at your show:
trauma kits, burn kits, pharmaceuticals, etc.
In some cases, local medical supply companies
will donate these materials in exchange
for sponsorship recognition.
17 Details on how your
respond to an aircraft
accident should be
covered in the CASERP.
You should address accidents both within
and outside the aerobatic box, in front of the
crowd and in the crowd, on airport property
and off airport property, non-fatal and fatal,
single fatalities and multiple fatalities, with
and without property damage, with and
without additional loss of life on the ground.
Certain military aircraft have very dangerous
hazardous chemicals on board. In the
event of an accident, are your CFR personnel
briefed on how to handle – or not handle –
these hazardous materials?
18 Make plans for
of your show.
Under what circumstances will you definitely
continue your show following an
accident or incident? Don’t wait until after
the accident to set those criteria; decide now
while you can address the issue unemotionally.
How will you let your audience know
that the show has been cancelled? Cars were
parked over several hours. Can your parking
lot and access roads handle a mass exodus
of your entire crowd within a much shorter
period of time? What will be the show’s
policy on refunds?
19 The CASERP should
also address a wide
variety of weather
How will your organization respond to
lightning ground strikes? In thunderstormprone
areas of the South, organizers
sometimes include specific direction in their
CASERPs on what they will tell their audiences
if storms move through the area. (For
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A (The answer to this question will also vary based on
the specific circumstances of the accident, but, assuming
that the system played no part in the accident,
here's one possible response.) Each year, with or without
an accident, we review our safety procedures and
our emergency response plan and make adjustments,
additions and changes. And, following this accident,
we will go through that process again. But, based
on what we know right now, we wouldn't change a
thing in our safety or emergency response plans. Our
systems and our people appear to have performed
exactly as they were supposed to perform.
Q Why did show organizers decide to continue the
show? Or why did show organizers decide to cancel
the rest of the show?
A Show management met immediately following the
accident and, as part of a pre-arranged process, we
discussed the relative advantages and disadvantages
of continuing the show. After close consultation with
regulatory officials and the performers, we made a
decision to go ahead with (or cancel) the remainder
of the show. Individual decisions on whether or not to
perform were left with the individual pilots, along with
the show management's assurances that we recognized
this as a highly personal and emotional decision
that each performer should make on his or her own.
Q How many air show accidents are there each year?
A As you might expect, this varies considerably. Each
year, there are approximately 300 air shows in the
United States and Canada. Experts estimate that, at
those 300 shows, air show pilots fly 8,000-10,000
individual performances. Of those, a very, very small
number experience any type of problem. In some
years, the industry has had one or two accidents. In
other years, there might be three, four or five. In the
last ten years, the North American air show industry
has had only one year in which we had more than five
Q What government organization is responsible for air
A The Federal Aviation Administration (or Transport
Canada) develops and enforces air show regulations
in the United States (or Canada). The FAA (or
Transport Canada) had representatives on-site at the
Q Will you hold the show again next year?
A It's too early to answer that question. Show management
will be meeting on a number of issues during
the coming days and weeks. Among the issues we
will discuss will be the future of the show.
Like it or not, an accident at your air show is news.
And, following an accident, you can expect to hear
from news professionals. In most cases, how you work
with those news professionals will have more impact
on coverage of the accident than the accident itself.
Generally, ICAS encourages you to direct media inquiries
on air show safety regulations and the history of
air show safety directly to ICAS headquarters.
If that does not work in your specific circumstances,
here are a few possible answers to some of the most
likely post-accident questions. Your answers will depend
on the specific circumstances of your accident,
but it’s important to consider possible scenarios ahead
of time…and that includes your likely answers to the
Q Why are there so many accidents at air shows?
A Any fatal accident is a tragedy and this one is no
exception, but the fact is that air show accidents are
relatively infrequent. Because they are often dramatic
and are nearly always captured on videotape, the
accidents receive widespread publicity. But, in fact,
there are typically just three or four air show accidents
per year in the United States and Canada.
Q Isn't it just a matter of time before somebody from
the audience is involved in an air show accident?
A No. Because of the rules and regulations in place in
the United States and Canada, it is highly unlikely
that spectators will be involved in an air show aircraft
accident. Since current regulations were put into effect
in 1951, there has never been a spectator fatality
in an air show aircraft accident in North America.
That's a safety record that is the envy of the entire
motor sports industry.
Q Wasn’t there an accident in Europe a few years back
A The regulatory and safety environment in which air
shows are held in the United States and Canada is
completely different than Europe or any other part of
the world. Because the rules in North America are so
much stricter, that type of accident simply could not
happen in the United States or Canada.
Q Wasn’t there an accident at an air race in the U.S. a
few years ago?
A Air races are conducted under a completely different
set of rules and guidance as compared to air shows.
And the nature of the flying at air races is fundamentally
different than the flying at air shows. There has
not been a spectator fatality at a North American air
show in more than 65 years.
Q What safeguards are in place to protect spectators?
A Spectator safety at air shows depends on four elements
of a very effective safety program.
First, every pilot performing aerobatics at a U.S. or
Canadian air show must be evaluated each year by
an experienced, certified aerobatics evaluator.
Second, air show performers — both civilian and
military — are prohibited from performing aerobatic
maneuvers that direct the energy of their aircraft
toward the area in which spectators are sitting.
Third, the industry and regulatory authorities strictly
enforce minimum set-back distances that were
developed to ensure that, in the event of an accident,
pieces of the aircraft will not end up in the spectator
Fourth and finally, there is a three-dimensional,
invisible aerobatic box in which all aerobatics must be
flown. Regulations prohibit anybody but necessary
personnel from being in that box. If there is a road
located within that box, for example, the road must
be closed during the air show. If an office building
is within the box, then the building must be vacated
during the show.
Q Shouldn't somebody do something to stop these air
show pilots from killing themselves?
A Accidents happen in car racing. Accidents happen
in thoroughbred horse racing. Accidents happen in
high school football games. And accidents happen
in the air show business. There are safeguards in
place to ensure that air show pilots are qualified and
experienced, but, despite these rules and the close
attention paid to safety issues, accidents sometimes
happen. The pilots who perform at air shows understand
the inherent risks of air show flying. They do
everything they can to minimize that danger.
Q Why did the crash/fire/rescue personnel take so long
A (The answer to this question will, of course, depend
on whether or not the CFR personnel did take a long
time to respond, but here's one answer that assumes
they responded promptly.) In an accident situation
like the one we had today, it's not unusual for people
to perceive the response time as being longer than it
actually was. But, based on our initial investigation, it
appears that the emergency response was timely and
Q Was there anything that show organizers could have
done differently to avoid this accident?
What To Do When The Media Starts
Asking Post-Accident Questions
43 a i r s h o w s 2 Q 2 0 1 7
23 People who require
emergency services ought
to be able to find them.
Your CASERP should include direction — on how
aid stations are identified — by spectators who need
assistance: red crosses, over-sized balloons, large banners…
whatever it takes.
24 And, your emergency
personnel should be able to
quickly find people in need.
Your plan should include a system for quickly identifying
each part of the spectator area. Experts suggest
that the entire ramp be divided into sectors and a map
identifying each sector be distributed to all emergency
personnel. This map doesn’t have to be any more
complicated than overlaying a grid on an aerial photograph
of the ramp area. When seconds count, it’s
a lot easier to direct somebody to sector L-4 than to
explain that the person in need of assistance is just behind
the second french fry stand just south of the C-5
static, but not quite as far as the flight school booth.
25 Your plan should also
specify how many
helicopters should be
available to transport
patients to nearby hospitals
or trauma centers.
These numbers should reflect both expected and
worst-case scenarios. If you can’t have the vehicles on
site, at least specify where they will be drawn from in
the case of a major accident.
26 Plans for ensuring effective,
in the event of an accident
should be a critical
part of your CASERP.
In the event of a major accident, cell networks will
become busy as every person in the audience with
a cell phone calls a friend or relative to tell them
what they just witnessed. At that point, you won’t
want your emergency response communications
system to depend on cell phone line availability.
27 Your show should set aside
at least one afternoon
each year to run a table
top exercise in which
scenarios are considered,
discussed and resolved.
A typical table top exercise might explore two accident
scenarios: a simple, typical type of low-level
emergency, and a less likely, but high impact incident
or accident. When they have completed these
exercises, your whole team will be more knowledgeable
and more comfortable with your emergency
plan, and more likely to respond effectively in the
event of an actual accident, no matter how much or
little it resembles the accident that you discussed in
your table top exercise.
28 In addition to your
table top exercise, your
show should plan an
drill on rehearsal day.
Emergency response personnel should know that a
drill will be conducted at some point in the rehearsal
show, but not precisely when or where. Ideally, these
drills will confirm that your plan can be executed
properly and quickly in the event of a real emergency.
More typically, the drills highlight areas of weakness
that, because you ran the drill, can be corrected
and improved prior to an actual emergency.
This is only a partial list of the topics and issues that
should be addressed by your show’s Comprehensive
Air Show Emergency Response Plan. The details of the
document that you develop for your show will depend
on your show site, airport facilities, the input of your
airport manager and a dozen other considerations.
Whatever the final product of your work, though,
recognize that your CASERP represents the first and,
potentially, most important step in dealing with a
genuine emergency if and when it arises.