Helicopters & Tents. DO NOT MIX!

Don’t set up Emergency COVID -19 Triage “Tents” Too Close To Your Heliport

March 27, 2020

by Rex Alexander

Helicopters produce a significant amount of downwash (rotor-wash) during takeoff, landing and hovering operations.  The velocity of this rotor-wash is directly proportional to a  helicopter’s size and weight.  Even a small helicopter’s rotor-wash can cause serious damage and inflict injury under the right circumstances. 

In 2018 at Fort Hunter Liggett, California the U.S. Army had 22 soldiers injured when a helicopter landed too close to the tent that they were occupying when it collapsed. 

Even when a tent stays in place, the laws of physics and aerodynamics are destined to displace every ounce of loose, unsecured and light to medium weight material located inside to the outside in a matter seconds. 

It is not just the location of the heliport in relationship to a tent that is of importance here.  The flight path of the helicopter must be taken into careful consideration as well.  As a helicopter is landing or taking off it is producing rotor-wash below it which can stay intact for up to a hundred feet or so.

Rotor wash is also greatly influenced by the wind and will travel in the direction the wind is blowing.  

The threat is two-fold:

  1. The helicopter can ingest loose items such as towels, blankets, trash bags, jackets and even the tent itself into the main and tail rotor systems with catastrophic consequences.
  • Individuals in and around the tent can be severely injured from the blowing debris or the collapsing of the tent itself, but if the helicopter crashes as in the scenario lives may be lost.

DO’S & DON’TS

Hospitals:

  • DO locate & set up any and all tents, storage areas, triage areas far away from any landing zone or heliport.
  • DO NOT assume your tent won’t be affected.
  • DO keep the area under the approach and departure paths clear of tents, storage areas, debris and triage areas.
  • DO secure any and all loose debris such as trash, dumpsters, tarps… near the heliport or landing area.
  • DO alert all Helicopter Air Ambulance Providers that you have a tent located on your campus and where it is.
  • DO mark the heliport with a large yellow X, signaling to pilots that it is closed for operations if you intend to close the heliport. 

HAA Providers

  • DO conduct a thorough reconnaissance of all landing sites prior to landing.
  • DO NOT attempt to land near any tent.
  • DO identify and use a safe alternative landing site when necessary.
  • DO NOT assume that materials near your landing area are secure.
  • DO alert other providers when you identify a new hazard
  • DO NOT hesitate to say NO when appropriate
  • DO Provide guidance and education on safe landing area operations