Students were given a taste of the pressures of covering a major terrorism alert at an airport during a disaster response exercise.
Leeds Bradford International Airport invited students from Leeds Trinity University College to take on the roles of the press for the training exercise.
The scenario, involving airport staff and emergency services from across West Yorkshire, was that passengers had become ill after white powder was discharged on a plane – sparking fears of a terrorist chemical attack and leading to an emergency landing.
10 Journalism students put LBIA’s press team through their paces, as all airport employees were required to respond to the practice – but no less tense – emergency situation on October 18, 2011.
Led by post-graduate Broadcast lecturer Richard Horsman, students from the Centre for Journalism arrived with TV cameras, radio flash mics and notebooks to demand information from the airport’s commercial and aviation development director Tony Hallwood.
Mr Hallwood explained: “The purpose of the exercise is to ensure that staff and external agencies are aware of the correct protocol and procedures in the unlikely event of an incident arising.” His role was to conduct press briefings, and he said he was grateful to the Trinity students for taking part.
“Their creativity and willing attitude certainly helped create a real life scenario,” he said.
As well as hounding Mr Hallwood with constant demands for updates, students set up a mock “Twitter” and blogging account to post their stories and updates. However all reporting was done in a secure area of the web, to prevent any confusion over the ‘rehearsal’ nature of the exercise!
Some adventurous future reporters also attempted to evade security and gain access to the actual scene of the ‘accident’, while others approached members of staff for direct quotes – especially when Mr Hallwood’s press releases failed to supply the necessary information any real news editor would be screaming for!
Level 5 Journalism student Megan Savage said: “I was so grateful to be offered the opportunity to take part in the airport emergency exercise. It was a great learning experience and it gave me a great insight into how press conferences work.”
Megan also advised others to take part in similar events: “I would recommend grabbing this opportunity with both hands – it would benefit any future Leeds Trinity journalists who are serious about making it in the industry.”
She said she found the unique experience very rewarding, helping her gain new skills and confidence.
This article was also published on the Journalism Department page of the Leeds Trinity website - available here