A report on LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) security was issued on March 18, 2014 and it is far from flattering. In fact, “LAX” has lax security, according to the 83-page report, prepared by a consultant on the heels of the November 1, 2013 shooting rampage at the airport. Paul Anthony Ciancia, a 23-year-old unemployed auto mechanic living in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, is charged with 11 federal counts, including: the 1st Degree murder of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Officer Gerardo Hernandez; the attempted murder of wounded TSA agents James Speer and Tony Grigsby; and other acts of violence against individuals, including a wounded passenger named Brian Ludmer. Ciancia predictably pleaded not guilty to all charges and, if convicted, faces the possibilities of life imprisonment and even the death penalty. Though the trial was originally scheduled for February 11, 2014, it was postponed at federal prosecutors’ request, as they determine whether to pursue the death penalty.
The report is based on 911 calls, dispatch logs, surveillance video and follow-up investigations of several agencies responding to the shooting and focuses on those responding agencies and the emergency management team of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX. According to the report, LAX is ill-prepared for a crisis, due to lapses in technology, communication and coordination that clearly created confusion and chaos among airport personnel, responders, passengers and their families. For example, within a minute of the initial shots, a TSA supervisor picked up an airport “red phone” to alert airport police but then fled when the shooter neared, leaving the airport police dispatcher to hear shouting and gunshots with no caller ID and no phone location; consequently, the dispatcher did not know who called, what was happening or where it was happening. In addition, the airport’s recently upgraded $5.4 million radio system could not communicate well with the 20+ responding agencies on the scene because their radios were incompatible; consequently, police and firemen did not know where to go or what others were doing and did not set up a unified command post for 45 minutes. Furthermore, once the command post was set up, there was almost no communication between command post officials and the untrained midlevel managers who manned the airports emergency operations center. What is more, emergency medical response was so poor that it took 33 minutes to transport the fatally wounded TSA agent to an ambulance. Finally, low-level security, baggage handlers and sky caps were not trained on emergency response/evacuation and did not know how to help passengers; consequently, passengers were found literally wandering the streets near LAX with no clue about what to do or where to go. These and other flaws led the report to conclude, “Had the attacker not been highly selective in his targets, and/or had there been multiple attackers with weapons of greater lethality, the outcome might have been far different.” In other words, we’re “lucky” that so few were wounded or killed. The fact that a lone gunman could throw LAX – one of the nation’s largest and busiest airports – into such helpless chaos is stunning and disturbing.
Focusing on agencies and systems, the report did not place blame on any individuals and, in fact, praised individual officers who wounded and apprehended the shooter. This caused other officials to criticize the report for failing to consider individual behavior, such as: the movement of 2 airport officers in Terminal 3 – the Terminal in which the attack occurred – out of position; their failure to give the required notification to dispatchers; and the prior decision to have officers move throughout terminals rather than staff security checkpoints. The reports failure to consider those behaviors caused at least J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, to characterize the report as incomplete and off-target.
The report gives approximately 50 recommended changes/lessons and other authorities contributed suggested changes, some of which are already in place: airport phones and panic alarms are now updated to transmit location information to dispatchers in the event of an emergency call; LAX now uses teams who walk the airport; the airport can send messages to passengers’ cellphones to alert them about emergencies: LAX is preparing a centralized public address system to ensure widespread, accurate information. Despite these and some other changes, an adequate security plan will reportedly require more emergency staff, more training, newer equipment and more effective agreements with responding agencies. Furthermore, a Congressional hearing was scheduled for late March 2014 to analyze the incident and LAX’s security. The positive spin on the violent event and LAX’s inadequate response is that the resulting review and improvements will help LAX evolve into an admirably secure airport and will assist worldwide airports in improving their own security. Prior to the shooting, many of us mistakenly believed that LAX was already “there” in terms of security; now we are forced to adopt a “better-late-than-never” approach to security improvements.
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