Airmen standardize procedures to ensure patient, aircrew safety

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stacia Zachary
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
Similar to walking through security and being searched by TSA at an airport, Airmen at the contingency aeromedical staging facility here have standardized procedures to take security aboard military aircraft to a higher level.

"We're like a medical airport," said Lt. Col. Barbara Persons, the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Det. 1 CASF commander. "We perform all the functions that an airport would, including security checks."

Anti-hijacking procedures are in place to protect the patients, aeromedical evacuation staff and the aircrew members who transport them.

While anti-hijacking sweeps were conducted in the past, there wasn't a standardized routine that personnel could follow and perform. When the current team arrived, they learned the set up and decided to make adjustments to the in-place procedures to fit their needs.

"Initially, when we came into (the facility), we laid eyes on what the process was," said Master Sgt. Jason Reininger, 451st EAES medical technician. "We pulled out different parts and began adapting them to fit how we operate, and we also streamlined a lot of things so that efforts weren't duplicated or drawn out."

One of the first things earmarked for this adaptation was the anti-hijacking procedure.

"When we first got here, there wasn't any actual anti-hijack process to follow," said Senior Airman Cyril McKenney, a 451st EAES medical technician. "We all did our own thing and what one person considered questionable, someone else would clear it. It was kind of a hot mess, so we drafted a plan to get everyone on the same page."

When a patient, or his personal effects, comes to the facility, all the gear is placed on a table in a bunker outside of the clinic.

"We have them leave their gear outside and then we put on our (individual body armor) and helmets and gloves and go out to the search area," Airman McKenney said.

For the members responsible for performing the sweep, donning protective gear can sometimes be nerve wracking. Many of the service members who come in to the detachment are heavily armed and carry ammunition that can unintentionally be disturbed if no one is aware that it hasn't been checked prior to arriving at the CASF.

"Sometimes it's a little (daunting), but then you focus on why you're doing it and you don't think about what could happen," said Airman 1st Class Dennis Nellessen, a 451st EAES medical technician. "We do these sweeps to make sure the patients and the aircrew are safe."

Except for comfort items, all personal effects are inspected by an aeromedical evacuation staff member. Once they have been inspected, the bags and gear will be locked in a secure area. Any secret materials, ammunition, lighters and blades more than 3 inches in length will be confiscated.

"We go through each and every bag, every pocket and check every compartment to make sure that nothing is being hidden or has been stored away and forgotten," Airman McKenney said. "The whole reason for the check is to make sure that if something could be a danger to others, it needs to be taken or put away and out of reach of the patient."

In order to respect a patient's property, the CASF staff asks if the person would like to be present during the inspection. Having the person on hand also helps the staff members gauge what they will find during the search.

"When we conduct a search, we'll ask if the patient wants to observe," Airman Nellessen said. "We try to find out all about what types of things they have on them and that makes the search easier. But, we still have to go through everything because there are a lot of little places where things can be hidden, like inside of sneakers."

Once all the bags have been searched, the patient signs a form stating that he is aware that his bags have been searched and all items have been accounted for. After this step, the gear is moved to a secure location.

"After we're done checking the baggage, we have the patient sign a form and then lock it up in the baggage (storage facility)," Airman McKenney said.

Overall, the newly drafted procedure identifies the proper way to conduct a search.

"Having a procedure in place is extremely important because everyone needs to know what's going on and we all need to be on the same page about what's approved, what needs to be checked," Airman McKenney said.

Another benefit of having the procedures written down is it will help when training new arrivals to the detachment or replacements.

"The best thing about putting the procedure down on paper is for training purposes," Airman Nellessen said. "When we came in, it was shown to us quickly and then we had to try to remember it. So, when the new crew comes in, they will have something to go to and find out how it's done. It's in really simple terms so it's easy to learn and do."

More importantly, by standardizing the format for conducting an anti-hijacking sweep, the CASF Airmen can report to their leaders with complete certainty that nothing was missed.

"One of the best things that has come of putting it all down in writing is when something happens and a patient arrives at a location with items he shouldn't have, we can refer back to our procedures and guarantee to leadership that the oversight didn't happen on our end," Sergeant Reininger said.

Establishing a hard and fast guide on how to conduct anti-hijacking sweeps has not only provided the team with a good training tool, but it has also served to keep everyone safe.

"Anti-hijacking is important because it safeguards patients and aircrews when we're sending people out," Airman McKenney said. "Safety for our patients is one of the most important (concerns) to us."