View full sizeSTATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Despite the explosions, flipped cars and thick smoke on the Bayonne Bridge early Sunday morning, rescue teams had the situation under control, as about 300 emergency workers participated in an emergency preparedness drill.
The exercise was part of the Port Authority’s ongoing efforts to practice and perfect the response of emergency workers to different types of accident and disaster scenarios. It was conducted in a manner that replicated traffic patterns during construction of the agency’s Bayonne Bridge Raise the Roadway project.
The NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority Police, and emergency units from New Jersey were among the agencies participating.
“Thousands of people use Port Authority facilities every day, and it’s our highest responsibility to keep those people safe,” said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority. “The way to do that is to prepare for things we hope will never happen.”
Bayonne Bridge emergency drill
The Port Authority’s accident scenario tried to stack the cards completely against rescue workers. It simulated three simultaneously occurring accidents on both ends of the bridge. Traffic was closed in both directions from 4:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., as a mess of crushed car parts littered the bridge.
The “main” accident trapped a car under a box truck. The other collisions were at opposite ends of the main accident — one on the New York side, and the other at the Jersey end. These additional obstacles were meant to mirror a situation where emergency workers would not be able to drive directly to the main crash. It also gave New York and New Jersey officials the chance to practice their joint response to an accident.
Volunteers acted as injured victims, as rescue workers loaded them onto stretchers in the darkness of the early morning hours. Smoke grenades also created the illusion of a real fire. Firefighters used the hydraulic tools to free one victim — played by a mannequin — from the car pinned under the box truck. But because of the other accidents blocking the roadway, rescue workers were forced to carry their heavy equipment.
Pat Foye, the Port Authority’s executive director, said there were three keys to conducting a successful multi-incident emergency drill. First, he said that all authorities on the scene must cooperate well with one another. The second key is communication. And the third is a continuous improvement of these agencies’ response times.
“What happens after is a critique among all agencies involved as to how it could be done quicker, better, safer and to have a better response time in the real world,” Foye said.
As the sun rose and the smoke subsided, those in charge said the rescue workers did a good job under extreme conditions.
“It was a tough scenario, but everyone handled it well,” said Steve Rotolo, Inspector of Staten Island Bridge Command.