Standing for a group photo are the volunteers, employees, managers, emergency service personnel, as well as several residents caught in the action during the morning exercise at the Governor's Harbour airport on April 27th, 2023.
Standing for a group photo are the volunteers, employees, managers, emergency service personnel, as well as several residents caught in the action during the morning exercise at the Governor’s Harbour airport on April 27th, 2023.


The systems, and facilities in place in Central Eleuthera to deal with an emergency situation at the Governor’s Harbour airport were put to the test in April.

On Thursday morning, April 27th, 2023, officials from the Bahamas Airport Authority were in Eleuthera to stage a full-scale safety drill at the facility.

Deputy Director for the Family Island Airports with the Bahamas Airport Authority, Mr. Shawn Forbes, shared, “The drill is designed to test the emergency response plan for the airports. It is a requirement in aviation that all airports have emergency response plans… We have found that we have been a bit lacking in executing those. Every two years, we are required to have those drills. So, the drill today will meet that requirement. But, apart from just meeting the requirement, it is also about ensuring the safety of the people who work at the airport, and the traveling public. Many times, people focus on regulatory requirements, which sound good – but people’s safety is primary.”

Fire trucks and ambulances ready to go into action at the Governor's Harbour airport during the drill held at the facility on April 27th, 2023.
Fire trucks and ambulances ready to go into action at the Governor’s Harbour airport during the drill held at the facility on April 27th, 2023.

He further explained that the drill that morning would be focused on the scenario of a bomb threat to the building. “It is going to test the evacuation plan of the airport, the response of the security team, and the police who are responsible for the major aspects of it, as well as the emergency medical and fire response – and their ability to move on time, and their availability in the event that something actually does happen.”

He emphasized that the drill was not about testing individual people, but rather the plan itself – and highlighted that the purpose of the drill was to uncover any gaps or deficiencies that might exist in the current safety responses at the airport, so they could be corrected and teams could be better prepared.

Mr. Forbes added that the full scale drill exercise was done every two years, but additionally, ‘tabletop’ exercises, which simulated the drill, were done twice per year.

Volunteer firemen with 'The Men of Faith' emergency fire services team, responded to the emergency call during the GHB airport drill.
Volunteer firemen with ‘The Men of Faith’ emergency fire services team, responded to the emergency call during the GHB airport drill.

A group of local volunteers were ushered into the passenger departure waiting area of the domestic terminal ahead of the expected ‘bomb threat’ call, which would set off the airport’s response plan that Thursday morning.

Regional Manager for Eleuthera, Mrs. Donnell Cooper, with oversight responsibility for the 3 international airport locations on the island, explained how the drill events were expected to unfold, saying, “We are not sure who will receive the phone call, but once the “bomb threat” phone call is received, the next step is to contact police, fire and medical emergency services, while security personnel carry out evacuations to safe ground. The Administrator and his team will be informed, as well as the ‘crisis manager’ in New Providence, to get a ‘bomb squad’ here. An emergency operations command center would then be activated.”

Moments after the call was received by local airport personnel about a bomb threat at the location, at 10 a.m. – teams went into action, said Mrs. Cooper, calling local emergency services in the area within the first 5 minutes, and evacuation of the terminal was done – including all employees on site, and the volunteer passengers. She confirmed the arrival of the first fire truck 15 minutes after they were informed, and the first ambulance service at about 10:23 a.m. – four minutes later.

With no ‘bomb squad’ personnel available on the island, local police stationed at the airport facility were tasked with responding to the threat and confirming that the building was safe.

A small group of visitors heading out of the airport by plane, as well as several local residents and business people coming to the airport on various errands got caught up in the drill exercise, in addition to the volunteers.

The area the evacuated group was asked to wait, as emergency services arrived and checked out the situation, was along the outer fringes of the airport’s parking lot  – and most were good sports, braving the hot sun of the mid-morning.

Near the end, but before the mock all-clear was given, members of the visiting party, for reasons unknown, were allowed to depart the airport for their destination in the U.S. – after voicing complaint to the unexpected disruption to their flight plans and schedule.

Mr. Forbes, following the drill, as he briefly addressed all the participants, commented that he had been unaware that Central Eleuthera had access to the number of emergency services that it did. Three fire trucks, and two ambulances responded to the emergency calls on the morning. Organizations responding included, the Governor’s Harbour Fire Rescue, Men of Faith Fire Service, Health Association of Central Eleuthera, as well as Bahamas Wellness.

He added that in his opinion, the response by emergency services went exceptionally well. “For those persons in the fire services, ambulances, and the police, we thank you so much for your assistance. The airlines and others who indulged us with your time – volunteers who acted as passengers, the persons who work at the airport who we pulled off the job – all  the customs and immigration persons, who helped to clear the halls, and even the pilot we pulled off of his plane before he flew out – we want to thank all of you for your time and energy.

“The exercise was a success. We saw a lot of positive things. We also saw some issues that we need to address. We didn’t expect to not have any issues – we knew there would be some. We see that the team here is prepared to work well together in responding to any emergency. There are some minor things that we need to tidy up and fix. However, an excellent job, and excellent turnout from emergency response services.”

Sovereign Atlantic, a local Ground Support Services Company, provided refreshments for all who partook in the drill exercise.

In the Works:

When asked about whether any special planning was being done ahead of major projects expected at all 3 of the international airports on the island during the next several years, Mr. Forbes responded, “I cannot speak at this time on any major changes that the government will put in place, but, our intent is to ensure that all the airports are up to speed from a safety and emergency response aspect.”

The Bahamas government announced earlier in 2023, the Family Island Renaissance Programme – a $260 million public private partnership project that they describe as transformative for the 14 Family Island airports and related infrastructure earmarked for redevelopment across 7 islands.

Among this government public private partnership initiative’s list of 14, all 3 of Eleuthera’s airports are included. North Eleuthera and Governor’s Harbour are targeted as tier 1 airport projects, and Rock Sound as a tier 2 airport.

A Request for Pre-Qualifications (RFpQ) process, said by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments & Aviation, I. Chester Cooper, to be for the purpose of, “…seeking relevant industry qualifications and innovative delivery options to develop robust and resilient airports infrastructure servicing the Family Island communities and international passenger traffic,” was issued by The Bahamas government on March 1st, 2023.

The original deadline for this Phase 1 of the RFpQ submissions was April 16th, 2023, but was extended to April 30th, 2023, to facilitate broader participation, said DPM Cooper.

On April 17th, he explained, “the RFpQ is part of a wider, comprehensive national strategy to facilitate the renaissance of our Family Islands through sustainable and commercially viable airport solutions.”