Tampa International Airport has been working over the past nine months to ensure that more than 400 disabled veteran athletes arriving via air have a smooth travel experience this week when they arrive in Tampa for the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which run July 13-18, 2013.
NVWG sign at Tampa International Airport. Photo courtesy Rob Higgins, Tampa Bay Sports Commission.
“Tampa International Airport is already highly accessible and well equipped to handle travelers in wheelchairs. However, we have never handled 400-plus arriving passengers in wheelchairs in one day,” said Emily Nipps, communications manager at Tampa International Airport.
Nine months ago, the airport began gathering hundreds of volunteers, team coordinators, medical personnel and airport employees to help plan for the arrival of the disabled athletes. The airport also has partnered with companies like UPS to handle the transport of chairs and Invacare to help with the assembly and repair of the chairs, Nipps said.
Tampa International last month also conducted Lift Team training, where 100 staff members and volunteers worked with Paralyzed Veterans of America to simulate the arrival and departure of passengers in wheelchairs. The airport will have approximately four lift teams and an airport medical coordinator at each airside to help escort the athletes, Nipps said.
“The goal has been to make the athletes’ arrivals and departures as smooth as possible so they can focus on the excitement of the games and their experience in Tampa, rather than worry about the logistics of navigating a strange airport,” Nipps said.
Other measures have included setting up an Incident Command Center in the airport to help communicate and coordinate all activities related to the arrival of wheelchair athletes, as well as coordination with Tampa Fire Rescue paramedics, Department of Veterans Affairs representatives and other officials to make swift decisions on any issues or problems that may occur.
The airport will keep in place its usual procedures for handling service animals, with each airline having its own procedures for accommodating them, Nipps said. “We have service animal relief areas in various locations near both the airside terminals and main terminal,” she said, “and we will have a large number of volunteers who should be able to assist any passengers with their service animals if needed.”
Airport personnel also will position various volunteers strategically at terminals, elevators and at ground transportation areas throughout the airport to ensure that wheelchair athletes have help every step of the way, Nipps added.
“We’re trying to get as many people involved so we can really make a splash to welcome these athletes,” said Bruce Sather, director of operations for Tampa International Airport, who has been heading up the airport’s plans for the event. “After so many months of planning, I, for one, am really looking forward to welcoming these athletes to Tampa and getting out to the see the games in action.”
Learn more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.